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DIPLOMAS COUNT 2011: Report Pegs National High School Graduation Rate at 71.7 Percent, Highest Since 1980s

“Just as Americans have been following the stock market and employment reports for signs of an economic turnaround, education watchers have been on the lookout for improving graduation rates for the better part of a decade.”

At 71.7 percent, the national high school graduation rate has reached its highest point since the 1980s, according to a new report from Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center. The report finds that the graduation rate increased nearly 3 percentage points from 2007 to 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, after declines in the previous two years. As a result, the nation’s public schools will generate about 145,000 fewer dropouts than the previous year. Even with this recent improvement, however, more than 1.2 million students—about 6,400 every day—leave high school without a diploma every year, the report finds.

“Just as Americans have been following the stock market and employment reports for signs of an economic turnaround, education watchers have been on the lookout for improving graduation rates for the better part of a decade,” said Christopher B. Swanson, vice president of Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit organization that publishes Education Week. “It looks like we are finally seeing strong signs of a broad-based educational recovery, which we hope will gain further momentum.”

The report, Diplomas Count 2011: Beyond High School, Before Baccalaureate—Meaningful Alternatives to a Four-Year Degree, finds that the nation’s graduation rate increased 6.1 percentage points from 1998 to 2008, including widespread improvements across three-quarters of states and among each major racial and ethnic group.

Specifically, thirty-eight states made gains over the last decade, including double-digit percentage-point increases in Florida (+12.4), Kentucky (+10.6 percent), New Jersey (+11.1), New York (+14.1), North Carolina (+15.4), and Tennessee (+20.0). Overall, New Jersey’s graduation rate (86.9 percent) led the nation, while Washington, DC had the lowest graduation rate (43 percent). The five highest and lowest high school graduation rates by state are shown in the table below.


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The report also finds that each major racial and ethnic group posted gains of at least 2 percentage points, with African American students showing the most improvement. At the same time, however, graduation rates for white students outpaced those of Native Americans and Latino students, meaning that large gaps in graduation rates continue to exist, the report finds.

As shown in the graph below, Asian American students (82.7 percent) have the highest graduation rate, followed by white students (78.4 percent), Latino students, African Americans, and American Indian students—all with graduation rates less than 60 percent—trail by a significant margin. High school graduation rates for minority males, which consistently fell near the 50 percent mark, continue to be a chief concern. Overall, 74.7 percent of female students earned a diploma, compared to 67.7 percent of male students, the report finds.


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The report also includes graduation rates for the nation’s fifty largest school districts. Among that group is Montgomery County, Maryland, which had the highest graduation rate at 85.7 percent while Detroit, at 33.4 percent, had the lowest graduation rate.

Graduation rates used in the report are calculated using the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) method, which captures the four key steps a student must take in order to graduate: three grade-to-grade promotions (grade nine to grade ten, grade ten to grade eleven, grade eleven to grade twelve) and ultimately earning a diploma (grade twelve to graduation). More information on the CPI method is available at .

In addition to the graduation rate data, the report includes several news articles that explore reform efforts to build meaningful pathways that may not end with a bachelor’s degree, including next-generation high school programs that combine college-prep studies with updated career and technical education, early-college high schools geared to the local labor market, and community colleges that link many high school graduates to higher education and the workplace.

The complete report is available at

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.