For the first time, the nation is on track to meet the goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate by the Class of 2020, according to a new report from Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center, America’s Promise Alliance, and the Alliance for Excellent Education. The report, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, finds that the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) increased from 71.7 percent in 2001 to 78.2 percent in 2010. It also finds that the number of “dropout factories” fell from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,424 in 2011.1
Released February 25 at the 2013 Building a Grad Nation Summit, the report attributes the progress in raising the national high school graduation rate to better data, an understanding of why and where students drop out, a heightened awareness of the consequences that dropping out has on individuals and the economy, a greater understanding of effective reforms and interventions, and real-world examples of progress and collaboration.
The greatest gains in raising the high school graduation rate have occurred for Hispanic and African American students. From 2006 to 2010, the AFGR for Hispanic students increased from 61.0 percent in 2006 to 71.4 percent in 2010, according to the report. During the same time period, the AFGR for African American students increased from 59.2 percent to 66.1 percent. The AFGR for white students increased from 80.3 percent to 83.0 percent.
“This is no longer the Silent Epidemic that we wrote about six years ago,” said John Bridgeland, chief executive officer of Civic Enterprises and coauthor of the report. “For the first time, the nation is on pace to meet the 90 percent high school graduation rate goal. While this is a historic milestone, graduation gaps affecting our most disadvantaged students threaten our progress in reaching this goal and fulfilling the American dream for all.”
Indeed, the report finds “shockingly low” graduation rates for African American, Hispanic, and low-income students, students with disabilities, and limited English proficiency students in many states. According to the report, twenty states still have high school graduation rates of 66 percent or below for African Americans students, while sixteen states also show graduation rates of 66 percent or below for Hispanic students. For low-income students, the graduation rate is 66 percent or less in eighteen states. In contrast, no states have white graduation rates lower than 66 percent; only four states have graduation rates below 75 percent for white students.
Among individual states, Minnesota is home to the most significant graduation gap in the nation between white and African American students (35 percentage points) and between white and Hispanic students (33 percentage points). In total, forty states have double-digit gaps between the high school graduation rates for white and African American students; thirty-five states have double-digit gaps between white and Hispanic students.
Geographically, southern states showed significant improvement, representing five of the ten states with the greatest improvement in AFGR since 2006. The top-performing state was Tennessee, which improved its AFGR from 63.4 percent in 2003 to 80.4 percent in 2010. Connecticut, where the AFGR declined from 80.9 percent in 2003 to 75.1 percent in 2010, was the lowest-performing state.
Southern states also showed the greatest improvement in reducing the number of dropout factories. As shown in the table below, the South accounts for the top seven states with the greatest decline in dropout factory high schools. At the top of the list is Texas, which reduced its dropout factories from 240 in 2002 to 108 in 2011.
“It’s exciting to see that the nation’s collective efforts are working,” said Robert Balfanz, coauthor of the report and research scientist at Johns Hopkins University. “Because of this work, 200,000 more students graduated high school in 2010 than if the graduation rate had not improved since 2006. But for the country to reach its 2020 graduation goal, the states that aren’t on-pace need to get in the game.”
Although the national high school graduation rate is on pace to reach 90 percent by 2020, many individual states have much more work to do, the report finds. Currently, only Vermont and Wisconsin have graduation rates of 90 percent or higher. An additional eighteen states are on pace to reach a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020, but thirty states are unlikely to do so.
In addition to the data on graduation rates and dropout factories, the report highlights innovative programs and efforts around the country involving schools, nonprofits, businesses, media, educational and governmental institutions, including case studies in Texas; Orlando, FL; the South; Shelbyville, IN; and Portland, OR.
The complete report is available at
1 A dropout factory is a high school in which twelfth grade enrollment is 60 percent or less of ninth grade enrollment three years earlier.