High School Graduation Facts: Ending the Dropout Crisis

Dropout Crisis

America’s Promise Alliance, in partnership with Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University and the Alliance for Excellent Education, releases the annual Building a Grad Nation report, a detailed account of the nation’s progress toward the GradNation goal of a national on-time graduation rate of 90 percent.

Here are some facts on high school graduation rates based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education and other sources noted below.

Making Progress

  • The national high school graduation rate for 2013 is 81.4 percent – an all-time high.[1]
  • For the third year in a row, the U.S. remains on pace to achieve the national goal of a 90 percent on-time high school graduation by 2020.[2]
  • Much of the gain made in recent years comes from increased graduation rates for students of color. Just over 70 percent of African American students (70.7) graduated in 2013, and just over 75 percent of Hispanic/Latino students (75.2) graduated in 2013.[3]
  • Since 2011, graduation rates have increased by 4.2 percent for Latino students, 3.7 percent for African American students and 2.6 percent for White students.[4]
  • A “dropout factory” is a high school that has a graduation rate of 60 percent or less. In other words, it is a school in which its reported twelfth grade enrollment is 60 percent or less than its ninth-grade enrollment three years earlier. In 2002, there were 2000 dropout factories. Today, there are fewer than 1,200.[5]
  • Since 2002, enrollment in dropout factories has dropped from 46 percent to 19 percent among African Americans, from 39 percent to 12 percent among Latinos, and from 11 percent to 4 percent among Whites.[6]

Opportunity Gaps: The Work Ahead

Unacceptably low levels of minority, low-income, English language learners (ELL), and students with disabilities are graduating from high school.

  • Graduation rates for students with disabilities and ELL students remain in the very low 60s.[7]
  • African-American and Hispanic/Latino students are still graduating 10-15 points behind the national average.[8]
  • Low-income students are graduating at a rate that’s almost 15 percentage points below the rate for their non-low-income peers.[9]
  • In 11 states, less than 70 percent of low-income students graduate. Nearly nine out of 10 middle- and high-income students are graduating on time, while only about 7 in 10 low-income students graduate on time.[10]
  • While students with disabilities have shown some progress, with almost 62 percent now graduating on time, they still lag almost 20 percentage points behind the national graduation rate.[11] Students with disabilities constitute 13 percent of K-12 public school enrollment, so achieving the GradNation goal will rest heavily on raising their graduation rates.[12]

Why a High School Diploma Matters

  • High school graduates are more likely to be employed, make higher taxable income, and aid in job generation.[13],[14],[15]
  • High school graduates are less likely to engage in criminal behavior or require social services.[16]
  • High school graduates have better health and longer life expectancy.[17]
  • High school graduates are more likely to vote. During the 2012 presidential election, 4 percent of people who left high school without graduating voted compared to 24 percent of youth with only a high school diploma and 37 percent with a college degree.[18]
  • High school graduates contribute to America’s national security because students that leave high school without a diploma are not qualified to serve in the military.[19]
  • The nation’s economy depends on skilled labor. Business leaders report difficulty in finding enough qualified employees with the skills, training and education to meet their companies’ needs.[20]

For more information, visit: www.gradnation.org

Updated May 29, 2015



[1] U.S. Department of Education through provisional data file of SY2011-12 and SY 2012-13 District and State Level Four-Year Regulatory Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates.

[2] U.S. Department of Education through provisional data file of SY2011-12 and SY 2012-13 District and State Level Four-Year Regulatory Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates.

[3] National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/achievement-gap-narrows-high-schoolgraduation-rates-minority-students-improve-faster-rest-nation.

[4] National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/achievement-gap-narrows-high-schoolgraduation-rates-minority-students-improve-faster-rest-nation.

[5] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics. (1998-2014). Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Surveys.

[6] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (1998-2014). Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Surveys.

[7] National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/achievement-gap-narrows-high-schoolgraduation-rates-minority-students-improve-faster-rest-nation.

[8] National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/achievement-gap-narrows-high-schoolgraduation-rates-minority-students-improve-faster-rest-nation.

[9] DePaoli, J., Fox, J., Ingram, E., Maushard, M., Bridgeland, J., & Balfanz, R. (2015). Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic – 2015 Annual Update. Washington, D.C.: Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, America's Promise Alliance, and the Alliance for Excellent Education. Retrieved from http://gradnation.org/sites/default/files/18006_CE_BGN_Full_vFNL.pdf.

[10] National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/achievement-gap-narrows-high-schoolgraduation-rates-minority-students-improve-faster-rest-nation.

[11] National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/achievement-gap-narrows-high-schoolgraduation-rates-minority-students-improve-faster-rest-nation.

[12] DePaoli, J., Fox, J., Ingram, E., Maushard, M., Bridgeland, J., & Balfanz, R. (2015). Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic – 2015 Annual Update. Washington, D.C.: Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, America's Promise Alliance, and the Alliance for Excellent Education. Retrieved from http://gradnation.org/sites/default/files/18006_CE_BGN_Full_vFNL.pdf.

[13] U.S. Census Bureau. (2012). Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0232.pdf.

[14] Child Trends. (2014). Making the Grade: Assessing the Evidence for Integrated Student Supports.

[15] The Statistics Portal (n.d.) Unemployment Rate of High School Graduates and Dropouts Not Enrolled in School in the United States from 2000 – 2013. (Data file). Retrieved from http://www.statista.com/statistics/184996/unemployment-rate-of-high-school-graduates-and-dropouts/.

[16] U.S. Department of Labor (2010). America’s Youth at 23: School Enrollment, Training, and Employment Transitions between Age 22 and 23. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Labor Statistics. www.bls.gov/nls/nlsy97; Andrew Sum et al. (2009). The Consequences of Dropping Out of High School: Joblessness and Jailing for High School Dropouts and the High Costs for Taxpayers. Boston, MA: Center for Labor Market Studies; Lochner and Moretti, “The Effect of Education on Crime”, www.nber.org/papers/w8605.

[17] Pleis J.R., Lucas J.W., Ward B.W. (2010, December). Summary Health Statistics for the U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2009, Vital and Health Statistics Series 10, no. 249. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_10/sr10_249.pdf; Rumberger, Russell W. (2012, January 24). America Cannot Afford The Stiff Price Of A Dropout Nation. Silicon Valley Education Foundation. http://toped.svefoundation.org/2012/01/24/america-cannot-afford-the-stiff-price-of-a-dropout-nation/; Muenning, Peter. (2005). The Economic Value of Health Gains Associated with Education Interventions. New York: Columbia University. Retrieved from http://www.schoolfunding.info/news/policy/Muennig%20-%20Health%20and%20Education.pdf.

[18] CIRCLE. (2012, November 15). Young Voters in the 2012 Presidential Election: The Educational Gap Remains. [Graph: Young Voters by Educational Attainment, 2012 Presidential Election]. Retrieved from http://www.civicyouth.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/2012-Exit-Poll-by-Ed-Attainment-Final.pdf.

[19] Council On Foreign Relations (2012) U.S. Education Reform and National Security. http://www.cfr.org/united-states/us-education-reform-national-security/p27618.

[20] Balfanz, R., Bridgeland, J., Bruce, M., & Fox, J.H. (2013). Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic - 2012 Annual Update. Washington, D.C.: Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, America's Promise Alliance, and the Alliance for Excellent Education. Retrieved from http://www.civicenterprises.net/MediaLibrary/Docs/Building-A-Grad-Nation-Report-2012_Full_v1.pdf.