graduation sits


State of the States: 19 Governors on Grad Rates

President Obama celebrated the nation’s highest-ever graduation rate of 82.3 percent in his 2016 state-of-the-union speech in January.

80 percent

Less noticed but no less important is the fact that more than 19 governors specifically talked about graduation rates in their state-of-the-state speeches.

“Leaders at all levels and from both parties are focused on raising graduation rates,” said John Gomperts, president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance and a leader of the GradNation campaign. "This focus is helping to galvanize action from kitchen tables to school houses to communities, and it’s helping to produce widespread progress on opportunities for young people to succeed in school and life.”

Please see below to get a glimpse of each governor’s remarks and a link to full graduation data from each state. For more information on state and national graduation rates, go to the recently released 2016 Building a Grad Nation Data Brief.*


Governor Bentley called Alabama’s progress on improving graduation rates over the past four years a testament to “hardworking teachers, principals and support staff who encourage and help students meet their education goals and graduate.” In addition to praising students for “rising to the challenge” and producing impressive results, Bentley pledged pay raises for teachers and school support personnel.

Governor: Julian Bentley 

Graduation rate: 86.3%, up 5 percentage points from 2012-13 (81)


Governor Ducey said that Arizonans "Should be alarmed to hear that more than half of our high school graduates can't get into our own state universities." Ducey proposed a plan to focus on career and technical education and provide more resources to schools in low-income areas to "help kids reach their full potential." 

Arizona is also working to boost graduation rates with support from the GradNation State Activation Initiative, a collaboration between Pearson and America's Promise Alliance. 

Governor: Doug Ducey

Graduation rate: 75.7%, same as 2012-13 (75)

Governor Malloy said that “graduation rates have increased and Connecticut is closing the achievement gap every year.” Connecticut’s improving graduation rate and test scores, he added, are testament to the hard work of “teachers and public schools.”

Governor: Daniel Malloy

Graduation rate: 87%, up 1 percentage point from 2012-13 (86)


Delaware has had a faster rate of improvement than any other state. In his speech, Governor Markell highlighted efforts by “students, families, teachers, and staff” to set big goals and reach them. The governor stated that the state has reached goals by “making more rigorous courses available” and enrolling more high school students in college classes. Looking toward continued improvement, Governor Markell drew attention to the troublingly high rate of unplanned pregnancy in Delaware (57 percent) and the implications that arise from mothers and fathers dropping out of school.

Governor: Jack Markell

Graduation rate: 87%, up 7 percentage points from 2012-13 (80)


Governor Deal proudly spoke about graduation rate improvement during his time in office. In 2011, when Deal took office, “Georgia’s high school graduation rate was an unacceptable 67.5 percent.” According to the most recent data, the state’s graduation rate is now 72.5 percent.

Deal attributed this improvement to increased funding for K-12 education and eliminating the mandated graduation exam. The Governor stated that, “If students have successfully passed all of the required courses for graduation, they should not be denied a high school diploma based on one final test.” The governor also emphasized the important influence that parents have on the academic performance of their children, urging parents to “insist that their children go to school every day and arrive on time.”

Governor: Nathan Deal

Graduation rate: 72.5%, same as 2012-13 (72)


Acknowledging that Idaho’s graduation rate has worsened in the past few years, Governor Otter outlined a budget that “will improve the chances for more Idaho students to succeed through high school and beyond.” Otter recommended “that $5 million go toward implementing more college and career counseling in Idaho’s high schools.”

Governor: C.L. ‘Butch’ Otter

Graduation rate: 77.3%, down 6 percentage points from 2012-13


Governor Pence lauded Indiana’s 87.9 percent graduation, up from 83 percent in 2013. With increased overall funding for K-12 education and significant funding for career and vocational education specifically, Indiana has made progress in student achievement. Pence said, “We raised our standards and saw graduation rates go up to seventh highest in the nation.” Not only are graduation rates in Indiana strong, but the gap between low-income and non-low-income students is now the smallest in the nation.

Governor: Mike Pence

Graduation rate: 87.9%, up 4 percentage points from 2012-13 (83)


Although Kansas’ graduation rate is down, Governor Brownback signaled hope for improvement in the 93 percent graduation rate for the state’s Jobs for America’s Graduates program. Brownback said spending on K-12 education in Kansas is at an all-time high. Kansas has one of the nation’s smallest graduation rate gaps between students with disabilities and students without disabilities.

Governor: Sam Brownback

Graduation rate: 85.7%, down slightly from 2012-13 (86)


Governor Nixon celebrated the fact that Missouri’s graduation rate is now in the top 10 highest of all the states. By focusing on “raising expectations, great teachers, strong communities and shared commitment to excellence,” Missouri, he said, is getting results. The governor praised the fact that “test scores are rising, the graduation rate is now in the top 10 in the nation and more high school graduates are college ready.”

Governor: Jay Nixon

Graduation rate: 87.3%, up 2 percentage points from 2012-13 (85)

New jersey

New Jersey’s graduation rate is fourth highest in the nation. The state has one of the nation’s smaller gaps between students with disabilities and students without disabilities. Governor Christie celebrated the “two years of graduation rate increases in [Camden,] what was once the worst school district in New Jersey.” The governor also highlighted a new program that was launched in partnership with community colleges to “help at-risk students graduate from high school and get prepared to attend college.”

Governor: Chris Christie

Graduation rate: 88.6%, same as 2012-13 (88)


New Mexico now has the lowest graduation rate in the nation, more than 13 points behind the national average with 68.5 percent of students graduating. Governor Martinez identified truancy as “a key impediment” to getting more kids through high school. She also highlighted New Mexico’s new “early warning dropout prevention system that identifies at-risk students,” more social workers in middle schools and more dropout prevention coaches in high school as measures to improve the state’s graduation rate.

Governor: Susana Martinez

Graduation rate: 68.5%, down 2 percentage points from 2012-13 (70)


Governor Kasich praised schools for “developing new strategies for identifying students at risk who may drop out” and encouraged efforts to help students who have dropped out to find a way to their diploma.

Governor Kasich also celebrated effective mentoring efforts in his state: “Folks, we know that mentoring makes a difference because we see the results in great programs like the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, where 95 percent of the students graduate from high school — 95 percent graduate from high school in a system where the average is about 63 percent.”

Governor: John Kasich

Graduation Rate: 81.8%, about the same as 2012-13


Governor Brown acknowledged that “Oregon’s high school graduation rate ranks among the lowest in the nation. Currently, one in four Oregon students doesn’t finish high school.” Governor Brown went on to say that “this must change,” and she highlighted the Woodburn School District for its dramatically improved graduation rate –a 24 percent increase in six years.

Governor Brown also spoke of a young immigrant student named Giselle who “is living proof that high school graduation is not a finish line. It is a launch pad to a very bright future.”

Governor: Kate Brown

Graduation Rate: 72%, up 3 percentage points from 2012-13


Governor Raimondo lamented the fact that “Rhode Island has the lowest high school graduation rate in New England and one of the largest achievement gaps between whites and non-whites in the entire nation.” Rhode Island also has one of the largest gaps between low-income and non-low-income students in the nation. Governor Raimondo implored Rhode Islanders to “act together to improve school so children can get the skills they need to succeed in today’s economy.”

Governor: Gina Raimondo

Graduation rate: 80.8%, same as 2012-13 (80)


Tennessee’s high school graduation rate is on the cusp of being in the top 10 of state graduation rates across the country. Governor Haslam said that the graduation rate “has increased for the third year in a row.” The governor then asked the legislature to think of the teachers and students who “are doing more than ever before” and to recognize their achievements by increasing state investment in K-12 education.

Governor: Bill Haslam

Graduation rate: 87.2%, up 1 percentage point from 2012-13 (86)


Governor Herbert celebrated the state’s progress in reaching an 83.9 percent graduation rate but challenged “teachers, parents, principals, school board members” and their students to raise Utah’s graduation rate to 90 percent in the next four years. Herbert pledged that the state would “bring to bear the necessary resources, determination and innovation to achieve this goal.”

Governor: Gary Herbert

Graduation rate: 83.9%, same as 2012-13 (83)


Governor Shumlin said that the success of employers in Vermont depends on the “success in moving more low-income Vermont kids beyond high school.” Although Vermont’s graduation rate is the eighth best in the nation, Shumlin said Vermont is “continuing to fall short on getting more students the college education that is now a prerequisite to earning a decent wage.”

Governor: Peter Shumlin

Graduation rate: 87.8%, same as 2012-13 (87)


Governor Tomblin attributed progress on graduation rates in West Virginia to truancy diversion programs and referenced a program in Putnam County that has seen the county’s graduation rate “increase from 78 percent to 90 percent since 2010.”

Governor: Earl Ray Tomblin

Graduation rate: 84.5% up 3 percentage points from 2012-13 (81)


Governor Walker praised “efforts to prepare all students for college and career.” He said Wisconsin has the third best graduation rate in the nation and honored students from two local high schools that are now graduating 100 percent of their senior classes. Governor Walker elaborated on efforts to close achievement gaps by making the ACT free for the class of 2016.

Governor: Scott Walker

Graduation rate: 88.6%, same as 2012-13 (88)

Join the GradNation Learning Community

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*The 2016 Building a Grad Nation Data Brief is co-authored by Civic Enterprises and Everyone Graduates Center in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education – the four leading organizations of the GradNation campaign.  The brief and accompanying State Progress Reports are based on the latest graduation rate data available from the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education (2013-14).

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