Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap

America’s Promise Alliance/Editorial Projects in Education Research Center

Only slightly more than half (53 percent) of students in the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan cities graduate from high school on time – significantly lower than the national average of 71 percent,  finds a new study commissioned by the America’s Promise Alliance.

From 1995 to 2005, many of the largest U.S. cities saw improvements in their graduation rates, including: Philadelphia (23 percentage points), Tucson, Ariz. (23 percentage points), Kansas City, Mo. (20 percentage points), El Paso, Texas (14 percent percentage points), Portland, Ore. (13 percentage points), and New York City (13 percentage points). Overall, 13 cities saw increases of 10 or more percentage points.

However, 19 of the country’s 50 largest cities saw the graduation rates in their main school district decline during the same period. Those cities include Las Vegas (-23 percentage points), Wichita, Kan. (-18 percentage points), Omaha, Neb. (-15 percentage points), Arlington, Texas (-12 percentage points), Albuquerque (-7 percentage points), and San Francisco (-7 percentage points).

Nationwide, nearly one-third of all high school students fail to earn a diploma on time; for minority students, the number approaches one-half. An estimated 1.2 million students drop out each year.

The study also examines the economic and employment outcomes for various educational attainment levels. It finds that only 37 percent of high school dropouts are steadily employed, and that dropouts are more than twice as likely as high school graduates to live in poverty. 

The median income for high school dropouts living in the 50 largest cities is $14,000, compared to $24,000 for high school graduates and $48,000 for college graduates. Dropouts are also the only group of workers who saw their income levels decline since the 1970s.

“In order to continue to move forward and make the U.S. competitive in today’s global economy, we must work together like never before to provide the supports that young people need in order to graduate high school ready for college, work and life,” said Alma Powell, chair of America’s Promise Alliance, which she helped found in 1997 with her husband, Gen. Colin Powell. 

The study is part of the Alliance’s Dropout Prevention Campaign, which is committed to holding 105 summits on dropout solutions in states and cities across the nation by April 2010.

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