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Dropout Rates in the United States: 2005
NCES 2007-059
June 2007

National Event Dropout Rates

The event dropout rate presented here estimates the percentage of both private and public high school students who left high school between the beginning of one school year and the beginning of the next without earning a high school diploma or its equivalent (e.g., General Educational Development certificate, or GED). Specifically, the rate describes the percentage of youth ages 15 through 24 in the United States who dropped out of grades 10–12 from either public or private schools in the 12 months between one October and the next (e.g., October 2004 to October 2005). The measure provides information about the rate at which U.S. high school students are leaving school without a successful outcome. As such, it can be used to study student experiences in the U.S. secondary school system in a given year. It is not well suited for studying how many people in the country lack a high school credential irrespective of whether they attended U.S. high schools, nor does it provide a picture of the dropout problem more generally because it only measures how many students dropped out in a single year. Data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) are used to calculate national event dropout rates.

  • National event dropout rates: Approximately four of every 100 students who were enrolled in high school in October 2004 left school before October 2005 without completing a high school program (table 1). This represents a decrease in the event dropout rate from 4.7 percent to 3.8 percent between 2004 and 2005. Since 1972, event dropout rates have trended downward, from 6.1 percent in 1972 to 3.8 percent in 2005 (figure 1 and table 2). Declines occurred primarily from 1972 through 1990. From 1990 through 1995, event rates increased, but then trended downward again from 1995 through 2005. These fluctuations during the 1990s and early– to mid–2000s resulted in no measurable difference between the 1990 and 2005 event dropout rates.
  • Event dropout rates by sex: There was no measurable difference in the 2005 event dropout rates for males and females, a pattern generally found over the last 30 years (tables 1 and 3). Exceptions to this pattern occurred in 4 years—1974, 1976, 1978, and 2000—when males were more likely than females to drop out (table 3).
  • Event dropout rates by race/ethnicity:6 Between October 2004 and October 2005, Black and Hispanic high school students were more likely to drop out than were White and Asian/Pacific Islander students (table 1). The event dropout rates for Blacks and Hispanics were 7.3 percent and 5.0 percent, respectively, compared with rates of 2.8 percent for Whites and 1.6 percent for Asians/Pacific Islanders. Students who indicated more than one race had an event dropout rate of 4.9 percent, which was not measurably different from the rates for the other racial/ethnic groups.7

    The general downward trend in event dropout rates from 1972 through 2005 observed in the overall population was also found among Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics (table 3).8  However, there were trend differences during the intervening years for these racial/ethnic groups. The pattern found among Whites mirrored the overall population: a decrease in event rates from 1972 through 1990, an increase from 1990 through 1995, and another decrease from 1995 through 2005. Blacks also experienced a decline from 1972 through 1990, and an increase from 1990 through 1995, but, unlike the overall population, experienced no significant change in their event rates from 1995 to 2005. Hispanics, on the other hand, experienced no significant change in their event dropout rate from 1972 through 1990, and no significant change from 1990 through 1995, but did experience a decline from 1995 through 2005.

  • Event dropout rates by family income: In 2005, the event dropout rate for students living in low–income families was approximately six times greater than the rate of their peers from high–income families (8.9 percent compared with 1.5 percent) (table 1).9

    Students from low–, middle–, and high–income families experienced an overall decline in event dropout rates during the three–decade period of the mid–1970s through 2005, including a downward trend during the first half of that period (1975 to 1990) (figure 1 and table 4). From 1990 to 1995, students from low–income families experienced an upward trend in rates, while their peers from middle– and high–income families experienced no significant change. In the last decade (1995–2005), the event rates for low–income groups trended downwards, a trend not found among students from middle– and high–income families.

  • Event dropout rates by age: Students who pursue a high school education past the typical high school age are at higher risk than others of becoming an event dropout (table 1). The 2005 event dropout rates for students in the typical age range for fall high school enrollment (ages 15 through 17) were lower than those for older students (ages 19 through 24). Specifically, 2.1 percent of 15– through 16–year–olds and 2.4 percent of 17–year–olds dropped out in the 1–year reference period, compared with 9.1 percent of 19–year–olds, and 24.4 percent of 20– through 24–year–olds.10
  • Event dropout rates by region: In 2005, no differences were detected in the event dropout rates for the four regions of the country (table 1).


6 Beginning in 2003, CPS respondents were able to indicate more than one race. Two percent of 15– through 24–year–olds who were enrolled in high school in 2004 (the base population for the 2005 event dropout rate) reported more than one race (table 1). The 2005 tables report data for five racial/ethnic categories: White, non–Hispanic; Black, non–Hispanic; Asian/Pacific Islander, non–Hispanic; Hispanic; and more than one race. The first three categories consist of individuals who identified as only one race, and who did not identify as Hispanic. A fourth category consists of Hispanics of all races and racial combinations. The “more than one race” category consists of non–Hispanics who identified as being multiracial. Because of small sample sizes, American Indians/Alaska Natives who reported only one race are included in the total but are not shown separately.
7 Because of a small sample size, the standard error for students who identify with more than one race is relatively large, which makes the detection of statistically significant differences difficult.
8 Because of small sample size for many of the earlier years, trend analyses could not be conducted for Asians/Pacific Islanders and American Indians/Alaska Natives.
9 “Low income” is defined here as the lowest 20 percent of all family incomes, while “high income” refers to the top 20 percent of all family incomes. In 2005, low–income families included those with $16,800 or less in family income, while high–income families included those with $80,674 or more in family income.
10 Eighteen–year–olds represent a transitional population in terms of high school education. Many are still in high school, while a large proportion have entered postsecondary education or the labor market (U.S. Census Bureau 2005). As such, they are not included with those who are age 17 and younger, or age 19 and older, in this analysis. The most recent year for which CCD dropout data are available for publication is the 2001–02 school year. More recent CCD data are reported later in this report (i.e., Average Freshman Graduation Rates for 2003–04 calculated based on 2004–05 CCD data).