Press Release

Nation’s High School Graduation Rate Hits Record High of 85.3%; Additional States Cross 90%

GradNation Calls for ‘Second Act’ to Support All Young People to Graduation

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Education today released data showing the high school graduation rate for the class of 2018 hit a record high of 85.3%. This is continued progress, according to the leaders of the GradNation campaign, but much more must be done to close equity gaps and support all students in earning a quality diploma that prepares them for their futures.

The new figures show the graduation rate increased from the previous year’s rate of 84.6%. Despite this progress, the nation is off track to reach GradNation’s goal of a 90% percent rate by 2020.

The leaders of the GradNation campaign—America’s Promise Alliance, Civic, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education, and the Alliance for Excellent Education—said today’s report shows the nation needs a “second act” when it comes to supporting young people to graduation and beyond.

“Today’s announcement is good news because more high school graduates mean more young people are achieving an important milestone towards leading successful lives,” said Dennis Vega, Interim President & CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. “But it is not enough: graduation rates don’t tell the whole story of what students need to thrive as adults. In addition to helping students achieve the graduation milestone, we must keep working to improve the high school experience for all individuals of every background by supporting their specific social, emotional, and academic needs and listening to young people so that they can be well prepared for whatever their futures bring.”

All racial and ethnic groups saw an increase in the graduation rate, however, Black and Hispanic students continue to trail their Asian and White counterparts by about 10 percentage points. The graduation rate was 81% for Hispanic students, 79.5% for economically disadvantaged, 79% for Black students, 73.5% for American Indian and American Native students, 68.3% for students with limited English proficiency, and 67.1% for students with disabilities. The graduation rate for Asian students rose to 92.2% and for White students to 89.1%.

Although there are no national graduation rate data for homeless students and young people in foster care, the majority of states have reported these rates and they range significantly, suggesting that more work needs to be done to understand these data. Graduation rates for homeless students range from a high of 84% in Kentucky to a low of 44% in the District of Columbia. For young people in foster care, the rates range from 80% in Mississippi to 25% in Colorado.

The 2018 data also show that seven states have now reached the 90% graduation rate bar.

“While graduation rates continue to rise toward the nation’s 90% goal, these persistent achievement gaps threaten equal access to the American Dream, particularly for students of color, from low-income families, and who experience homelessness or are in foster care,” said John Bridgeland, Founder & CEO of Civic. “The progress of a diverse group of states that have crossed the 90% threshold shows that other states can too. We can look to lessons to be learned from the states that have reached this milestone.”

“By following the evidence of what works, states and districts can ensure more students boost their achievement,” said Bob Balfanz, Director at the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act provides a historic opportunity to reform and redesign the remaining low-performing high schools in the United States, with unprecedented levels of resources to get the job done.”

Achieving the 4.66 percentage point increase needed to reach a 90% graduation rate will be challenging, but it is not impossible if all stakeholders do their part. Schools alone cannot be responsible for addressing every academic and non-academic need that young people have. The GradNation campaign remains committed to activating key stakeholders and supporting community-level action. “This year must be the time to reignite attention, celebrate progress, and press for urgent action,” Vega said.

As a “second act” to help more young people earn diplomas, GradNation advocates supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic needs and listening to young people so they can be ready and well for their futures in postsecondary education, the workforce, and civic life. School systems across the country are working with partners to make safe and supportive learning environments with access to rigorous coursework, mentoring, and work-based learning a priority.

“The nation has a laser-like focus on the high school dropout challenge over the last 15 years with good effects. But we have so much work to do to ensure all students, from every background, have a first-rate education that prepares them for college, work and civic life,” said Mylayna Albright, assistant vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility at AT&T. “AT&T continues to invest in this critical effort for our nation’s young people, and we are excited about the emerging collaborations with so many corporations and foundations stepping forward to support this work.”

The GradNation campaign will release its annual Building a Grad Nation report in the coming months to further dive into the nation’s progress and challenges through the lens of the secondary school improvement index. The report is prepared by Civic and the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

“Sixty-five years ago, Brown vs. Board of Education promised every student access to an equal education,” said Deb Delisle, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. “With each release of the latest data, we are reminded of how far our nation still needs to go to deliver on the promise of Brown. Until we close the opportunity gaps for students of color, students from low-income families, and other students facing the greatest challenges, we can never truly celebrate.”


America’s Promise Alliance is the driving force behind a nationwide movement to improve the lives and futures of America’s youth. Its work is anchored in the belief that every young person deserves to succeed, and every adult is responsible for making that happen. By bringing together hundreds of national nonprofits, businesses, community and civic leaders, educators, citizens, and young people, the Alliance does what no single organization can do on its own: catalyze action on a scale that reaches millions of young people.