Skip Navigation
Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 2007

NCES 2009-064
September 2009

National Event Dropout Rates

The national event dropout rate presented here is based on data from the CPS and is an estimate of 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., a 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 2006 to October 2007).9 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, and students may reenter the school system after that time. More detail about the definition and computation of the event dropout rate and other rates in this report can be found in appendix A.

  • National event dropout rates: Three and one-half of every 100 students who were enrolled in public or private high schools in October 2006 left school before October 2007 without completing a high school program (table 1). No measurable change was detected in the event dropout rate between 2006 and 2007 (3.8 percent in 2006 and 3.5 percent in 2007); however, since 1972, event dropout rates have trended downward, from 6.1 percent in 1972 to 3.5 percent in 2007(figure 1 and table 2).10 Declines occurred primarily from 1972 through 1990, when the rate reached 4.0 percent. From 1990 through 1995, event rates increased, but then trended downward again from 1995 through 2007. These fluctuations during the 1990s and early to mid-2000s resulted in no measurable difference between the 1990 and 2007 event dropout rates.
  • Event dropout rates by sex: There was no measurable difference in the 2007 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 had measurably higher event dropout rates than females.
  • Event dropout rates by race/ethnicity:11 Between October 2005 and October 2006, Hispanic students in public and private high schools were more likely to drop out than were White and Black students (table 1). The event dropout rate for Hispanics was 7.0 percent, compared with rates of 2.9 percent for Whites and 3.8 percent for Blacks. The general downward trend in event dropout rates over the three-and-a-half decade period from 1972 through 2006 observed in the overall population was also found among Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics (table 3).12 However, the decreases happened at different times over this 35-year period 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 2007. Blacks also experienced a decline from 1972 through 1990, and an increase from 1990 through 1995, but their event dropout rates fluctuated between 1995 and 2007. Hispanics, on the other hand, experienced no significant change in their event dropout rates from 1972 through 1990, and no significant change from 1990 through 1995, but did experience a decline from 1995 through 2007.
  • Event dropout rates by family income: In 2007, the event dropout rate of students living in low-income families was about 10 times greater than the rate of their peers from high-income families (8.8 percent vs. 0.9 percent) (table 1).13

    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 2007 (figure 1 and table 4).All three groups of students experienced declines in event dropout rates from 1975 through 1990. Those from low-income families had rates that fell from almost 15.7 percent to approximately 9.5 percent. Students from middle-income families had rates fall from 6.0 percent to 4.3 percent and those from high-income families had rates fall from 2.6 percent to 1.1 percent. From 1990 to 1995, students from low-income families experienced an upward trend in rates from 9.5 percent to 13.3 percent, while their peers from middle- and high-income families experienced no significant change. In the last 12 years (1995–2007), the event rates for all three income groups trended downward falling from 13.3 percent to 8.8 percent for students from low-income families, 5.7 percent to 3.5 percent for students from middle-income families, and 2.0 percent to 0.9 percent for students from high-income families.

  • Event dropout rates by age: Students who pursued a high school education past the typical high school age were at higher risk than others of becoming an event dropout (table 1). The 2007 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 20 through 24). Specifically, 3.2 percent of 15- through 16-year-olds and 2.1 percent of 17-year-olds dropped out in the 1-year reference period, compared with 20.3 percent of 20- through 24-year-olds.
  • Event dropout rates by region: In 2007, no measurable differences in the event dropout rates for public and private high school students were apparent by region (table 1).


9 Data about 9th grade dropouts are not available in the Current Population Survey (see appendix A for more information). The state event dropout rates for public high school students presented later in this report are based on the Common Core of Data, which includes 9th-graders.
10 Trend analyses were conducted using regressions. See appendix A for more details.
11 The 2007 tables report data for four racial/ethnic categories: White (non-Hispanic), Black (non-Hispanic), Asian/Pacific Islander (non-Hispanic), and Hispanic. 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. Because of small sample sizes, American Indians/Alaska Natives and those who identified themselves as being two or more races, but not Hispanic, are included in the total but are not shown separately. For simplicity, the terms "Black," "Hispanic," and "Asian/Pacific Islander" are used in the text of this report without the "(non-Hispanic)" label.
12 The trend analyses conducted to examine this three-and-a-half decade period are based on annual rate estimates for each year from 1972 through 2007. Separate trend analyses were also conducted for each racial/ethnic group separately for trends across the three shorter time periods indicated in the bullet: 1972–1990, 1990–1995, and 1995–2007. Because of small sample sizes for many of the earlier years, reliable trend analyses could not be conducted for Asians/Pacific Islanders and American Indians/Alaska Natives.
13 "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 2007, low-income families included those with $18,390 or less in family income, while high-income families included those with $85,500 or more in family income. For respondents missing data for family income (19.7 percent of the weighted sample in table 1), cold-deck procedures were used to impute data.
14 Some states report using an alternative 1-year period from one July to the next. Rates for those states are presented because event dropout rates based on the July-to-July calendar are comparable to those calculated using an October-to-October calendar (Winglee et al. 2000).