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New Data Highlights Low-Income Student Graduation Gaps

Minnesota, with one of the largest gaps between low-income and non-low-income students, shares insights on how it’s tackling the issue

The nation’s high school graduation rate recently reached a record high of 82.3 percent, driven largely by improvements among traditionally underserved students. But significant gaps remain, particularly for low-income students, according to a new data brief from the GradNation campaign.  

The 2016 Building a GradNation Data Brief: Overview of 2013-14 High School Graduation Rates released by Civic Enterprises and Everyone Graduates Center, in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education, shows that nationally 74.6 percent of low-income students graduated on time compared to 89 percent of non-low-income students—a 14.4 percentage point gap

 2016 Building a Grad Nation Data Brief: Overview of 2013-14 High School Graduation Rates

The Data Brief was released as part of the GradNation campaign, led by America’s Promise, to raise high school graduation rates to 90 percent by 2020. 

(Check your state’s progress in reaching 90 percent for all students.)

The Gap Facing Low-Income Students

Nearly half – 47 percent – of the nation’s 2014 graduating class came from low-income families, and nearly two-thirds of the states have public school student populations that are at least 40 percent low-income.

 2016 Building a Grad Nation Data Brief: Overview of 2013-14 High School Graduation Rates

“In low-graduation-rate schools, low-income students are overwhelmingly the largest subgroup represented,” said Rachael Fortune, a director of alliance engagement at America’s Promise. “Clearly, this is a segment of students that must be better supported if the country is to graduate 90 percent of all students by 2020.  We encourage state and local leaders to use data to set goals, then redouble efforts to reach them.”

Sixteen states graduate less than 70 percent of low-income students. In those states, researchers estimate that nearly 191,000 low-income students did not graduate on time with a traditional diploma.

The graduation gap between low-income and non-low-income students ranges from a high of 25.6 percentage points in South Dakota to a low of 4 percentage points in Indiana.

States with Biggest Gaps for Low-income Students

Size of Income Gap in HS Grad Rate vs. Non-Low-Income Student Grad Rates

Low-Income Grad Rate
















Minnesota Tackles Low-Income Gap

Despite an overall graduation rate of 81.2 percent, the research shows that Minnesota has one of the nation’s largest graduation gaps between low-income and non-low-income students – 23.6 percentage points.  

Four out of 10 students in the state of Minnesota are low-income and they are graduating at a rate of nearly 70 percent. Minnesota still has almost 7,300 students enrolled in low-graduation-rate high schools, defined as schools that have a graduation rate of less than 67 percent. 

But Minnesota is working to change those numbers.

The GradNation State Activation Initiative, a three-year grant collaboration between America’s Promise Alliance and Pearson, helps support a statewide campaign to mobilize Minnesotans to increase graduation rates for all students. 

One of the grantees, Minnesota Alliance with Youth, through its GradMinnesota initiative, is driving the work though the development of a statewide communications campaign, the creation of a comprehensive online resource library for educators and practitioners, and the endorsement of legislation that advances the group’s seven recommendations.

GradMinnesota, is a statewide coalition in partnership with the Governor’s office and the Minnesota Department of Education.

Based on research, effective practices, input from young people and other key stakeholders, GradMinnesota offers seven key recommendations to increase student engagement and raise high school graduation rates. These include replacing exclusionary disciplinary policies with more effective alternatives; heeding data-based early warning indicators and providing targeted support to students who are disengaging; and providing transportation to ensure equitable access to learning opportunities such as afterschool programs, alternative learning centers or college courses - and more.

Educators across the state are adopting strategies that will work for their students.

At West Education Center Alternative (W-Alt) School in Minnetonka, Minnesota, for example, Alexia Poppy-Finley, Assistant Supervisor, said, “We pride ourselves on strong relationships with students.  It’s an approach that helps the teachers and staff address the whole student and respond to emotional and social as well as academic needs.”

Learn more about Minnesota’s graduation rates.

Join the GradNation Learning Community

To get more news about graduation rates and effective practices to improve them, join the GradNation Learning Community. Just send an email to Corey Benjamin with your name, email address and organizational affiliation. To join the conversation on Twitter, use #GradNation.

This article is part of a series “90 for All,” which will examine the challenges facing traditionally underserved students and the solutions that show promise for closing the graduation gap.