Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Raising High School Graduation Rates

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Author(s): Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University

  • Jennifer L. DePaoli
  • Robert Balfanz
  • John Bridgeland
  • Matthew Atwell
  • Erin S. Ingram

Published: May 3, 2017

Report Intro/Brief:
“At 83.2 percent, the national graduation rate is at an all-time high. All told, 2.8 million more students have graduated from high school since 2001, resulting in significant benefits for young people, the economy, and the nation.

There are now roughly 1,000 large, low-graduation-rate high schools, and less than 900,000 students attending them—down from more than 2,000 such schools and 2.5 million students enrolled in them in 2002. Most notably, low-income students made up nearly half of the class of 2015.

The nation must double its pace of progress over the next five years to reach the 90 percent goal by 2020. For many states, progress has stagnated, often due to specific student subgroups that these states continue to leave behind. Low-income students, students with disabilities, Black and Hispanic/Latino students, and English Language Learners continue to graduate at lower rates than their peers.

In 2015, about half of states reported high school graduation rates of 85 percent or more and are on track to reach a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. There are, however, a substantial number of states still graduating less than 80 percent of students in four years and several others with graduation rates in the lower 80s that have remained stagnant for years. The state-level data also continue to show concerning trends in many states for key student subgroups:

  • Ten states reported graduation rates for Hispanic/Latino students below 70 percent and another 22 states had Hispanic/Latino graduation rates between 70 and 80 percent.
  • The graduation rate for Black students was less than 70 percent in 12 states and between 70 and 80 percent in 25 other states.
  • In 11 states, the graduation rate for low-income students was below 70 percent, and in 28 other states, between 70 and 80 percent of low-income students graduated on time.
  • In 33 states, English language learners (ELLs) graduated at rates less than 70 percent, and in five of those states, less than 50 percent of ELLs graduated on time.
  • Thirty-three states graduate less than 70 percent of their students with disabilities (SWDs), and in four of those states, less than 50 percent of SWDs graduated on time.
  • In contrast, 33 states reported graduation rates for White students of 85 percent of more and 43 states graduated 85 percent or more of non-low-income-students.”

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