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HIGHEST IN HISTORY: U.S. High School Graduation Rate Reaches 80 Percent for the First Time

"Because of graduation rate increases between just 2008 and 2012, an additional 100,000 Latino students and an additional 40,000 African American students graduated from high school," said Secretary Duncan.

The national high school graduation rate for the Class of 2012 was 80 percent—the highest in the history of the United States and a 1 percentage point gain over last year. Even with the overall gain, white students continue to graduate from high school at much higher rates than Hispanic, black, and American Indiana/Alaska Native students, according to the data released on April 28 by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

“The real-world impact of that improvement for students, their families, and their communities is enormous,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said when he announced the data to the audience at the America’s Promise Alliance Grad Nation Summit. “Because of graduation rate increases between just 2008 and 2012, an additional 100,000 Latino students and an additional 40,000 African American students graduated from high school. That is 140,000 students of color alone with a better chance of getting a good job, owning their own home, and supporting a family. As a country, we owe a debt of gratitude to the teachers, administrators, students and their families whose hard work made that achievement possible.”

Duncan pointed out that the 20 percent of students who did not complete high school on time in 2012 represented more than 700,000 young people—more than the total population of Wyoming or Vermont. He noted that a “sharply disproportionate” share of these individuals are students of color, low-income students, or students with disabilities or limited English proficiency, as shown in the table below. (Click on the image for a larger version). “Not one of those groups reached a 75 percent graduation rate, let alone 80, and several have rates in the 60s or below,” Duncan said.


Duncan said closing these graduation rate gaps “could not be more important,” especially given that this fall—for the first time in the nation’s history—the majority of public school students will be nonwhite.

“For anyone who has made the mistake of believing that the challenges of black and brown communities are somehow someone else’s problem—a minority problem—that day is over,” Duncan said. “Let us not pretend that all the challenges belong to students who are black, or brown, or poor, or who live in inner-city and rural places. Because when we think about preparing our young people today for the possibilities of tomorrow—which increasingly means preparing them for some form of college—then that’s about all our kids. This is about both equity and excellence. And I believe it’s going to take a sea change in our classrooms to get there.”

Iowa (89 percent) posted the highest graduation rate while the District of Columbia (59 percent) had the lowest. States with the highest and lowest graduation rates are shown in the table below. (Click on the image for a larger version).


Of the forty-seven states for which data is available—Idaho, Kentucky, and Oklahoma received an extension and are not currently required to report their adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR)—thirty-seven states improved their graduation rates from 2011 to 2012. Of those states, twenty-five improved their graduation rates by 1 or 2 percentage points while eight states increased their graduation rates by 3 percentage points or more. The largest gains were made by New Mexico (7 percentage points), Missouri (5 percentage points), Florida (4 percentage points), and Utah (4 percentage points).

The graduation rate data is contained in the NCES report Public High School Four-Year On-Time Graduation Rates and Event Dropout Rates: School Years 2010–11 and 2011–12 and represents the four-year ACGR, which measures of the percentage of students who successfully complete high school in four years and graduate with a regular high school diploma. Students receiving a high school equivalency credential, such as a General Educational Development (GED) credential, certificate of attendance, or any other alternative award, are not considered graduates under the ACGR.

The complete report is available at

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.