Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972-2008

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A new federal report is the latest measurement of the American high dropout picture, this one quantifying not just rates of ninth graders who have dropped out by 12th grade, but also percentage of 16- to-24-year-olds without a diploma or certificate.

Coming from the Department of Education’s research branch – the National Center for Education Statistics – the report shows roughly 3 million 16- to-24-year-olds in October 2008, the most recent data available, were not in high school and lacked a diploma or an alternative credential, such as a GED. This figure represents 8 percent of the nation’s 38 million non-institutionalized civilians in this age group.

Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972-2008 examines  four different dropout measures, with all four showing national improvements over time. In addition to the previously mentioned figure, representing what researchers call the status dropout rate, there are also numbers on event dropout rates, which tracks percentages of students who left school within a one-year time frame; status completion rate, measuring percentage of 18- to-24-year-olds not in school who have a high school diploma or other certificate; and averaged freshman graduation rate, a breakdown of number of ninth graders who graduate within four years.

For event dropout rates, the study shows 3.5 percent of students enrolled in October 2007 had left high school by October 2008 without completion. This number has been on the decline since 1972, when it was 6.1 percent. The status completion rate shows 89.9 percent of 18- to-24-year-olds in October 2008 had a diploma or equivalency credential, up from 83.9 percent in 1980. The averaged freshman graduation rate for the 2007-2008 school year was 74.9 percent, reflecting a state-level range of 51.3 percent in Nevada to 89.6 percent in Wisconsin.