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DEMOGRAPHY AS DESTINY: Alliance Finds that Low Minority Graduation Rates and Rising Minority Populations Could Jeopardize the Nation’s Economic Future

“By 2020, the adult population aged 25 to 64 will be 63 percent white, 17 percent Hispanic, 13 percent African American, 6 percent Asian, and around 1 percent Native American.”

The nation’s future economic well-being will weaken considerably unless it increases the percentage of minority students who graduate from high school to at least the level of their white classmates, according to a new issue brief by the Alliance for Excellent Education. The brief, Demography as Destiny: How America Can Build a Better Future, which was funded by MetLife Foundation, finds that if the nation’s high schools and colleges were to raise the graduation rates of Hispanic, African-American, and Native-American students to the levels of white students by 2020, the potential increase in personal income across the nation would add more than $310 billion to the U.S. economy.

Currently, only about 70 percent of all American high school students graduate in four years, but the figures are even bleaker for minority populations. Only 52 percent of Hispanic, 56 percent of African-American, and 57 percent of Native-American students graduate on time, compared to 78 percent of white students. Using estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the report notes that the U.S. population is expected to grow from just over 282 million in 2000 to almost 336 million in 2020. During that time, the minority population will grow at a considerably faster pace than the overall population, as demonstrated in the graph to the right.

According to the report, as minority populations become larger as a percentage of the population, their low graduation rates must be improved; otherwise, the national graduation rate will begin to fall below its current 70 percent as a growing number of minority students are left behind.

“By 2020, the adult population aged 25 to 64 will be 63 percent white, 17 percent Hispanic, 13 percent African American, 6 percent Asian, and around 1 percent Native American,” the report reads. “So, unless Hispanic, African-American, and Native-American students are better served by schools to ensure increased graduation rates, the percentage of students attaining high school diplomas and college degrees will decrease.”

The brief notes that although there is a general understanding of the importance of closing the nation’s educational achievement gap, less recognized is the fact that the segment of the population that is the least well educated is also the fastest growing. Using estimates fromPatrick Kelly, a senior associate at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, the brief notes that the percentage of adults aged 25 to 64 with a high school diploma or higher will decrease by 2.5 percentage points from its current level by 2020.

Unaddressed, this circumstance alone will mean significant reductions in the knowledge and skill levels of the U.S. workforce. It will also mean dramatically lower levels of personal income, leading to a reduced tax base for the nation and the states. Based on current educational disparities and Census population projects, the U.S. population in 2020 will include seven million more adults who have not completed high school than it does today.

However, the report argues that if the U.S. education system raises minority high school graduation rates to the current level of white students, and if these new graduates go on to postsecondary education at similar rates, these young adults will not only have become better educated, but they will also be earning at higher levels. As a result, the states in which they live, as well as the nation as a whole, will be the economic beneficiaries. The potential earnings in selected states if minority groups were graduating from high school and going on to postsecondary education at the same rates as white students are listed in the chart below.


Additional Personal Income per Capita

Additional Total Personal Income



$101.6 billion



$634 million



$14.7 billion



$3.5 billion



$3.8 billion



$106 million



$46.5 billion


“The stunning potential economic benefit to the nation and the states of turning life around for underserved youth through improved schooling should be a wake-up call about the importance of reforming America’s high schools now,” the brief concludes, “because the nation truly needs the economic and social contributions these young people can make.”

The complete issue brief is available at


Census Bureau Releases New Earnings Estimates by Education LevelIndividuals with a high school diploma earn about $10,000 more annually than high school dropouts, according to the latest calculations from the U.S. Census Bureau. According to Educational Attainment in the United States: 2005, high school graduates earned an average of $28,645 in 2004 while high school dropouts only earned $19,169. The report, released on October 26, also finds that adults aged eighteen and older with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $51,554 and that advanced-degree holders made an average of $78,093.

The report also finds that 85.2 percent of adults aged twenty-five or older have obtained their high school diploma. However, only 27.7 percent have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher. When broken down by race, 85.8 percent of whites over twenty-five have a high school diploma, versus 81.1 percent of African Americans and only 58.5 percent of Hispanics. While 28.1 percent of whites have obtained their bachelor’s degree, only 17.6 percent of African Americans and 12 percent of Hispanics can say the same.

In total, the report contains fourteen tables of data on educational attainment and earnings and includes data broken down by age, sex, race and ethnic background, occupation, and industry, among others. The majority of the data is national, but some data for regions and states is also included.

The complete list of data tables is available at


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.