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As the Total Number of High School Graduates Declines, Latino Graduates See the Greatest Growth

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December 12, 2016 10:50 am


Earlier this fall, President Obama announced that the national high school graduation rate reached a new all-time high of 83.2 percent for the Class of 2015, capping off nearly five years of sustained growth since all states began using a uniform method for calculating graduation rates in School Year (SY) 2010–11. Yet, while the percentage of students graduating from high school within four years has climbed steadily, the actual number of students graduating on time is declining, with the greatest decrease projected for the Class of 2017, according to a new report from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). Most of the decline is a result of fewer white students graduating from high school, even as the number of graduates of color continues to climb, according to Knocking at the College Door.

“We are moving toward a time when nearly half of all high school graduates will be students of color, with the largest increases among Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders,” says Joe Garcia, president of WICHE.

Between SYs 2000–01 and 2012–13, the total number of U.S. public and private high school graduates increased from 2.85 million to a peak of 3.46 million, says the report. Since then, the total number of high school graduates has declined and WICHE projects that the Class of 2017 will have about 81,000 fewer graduates than the Class of 2013. Graduation numbers then will stagnate, with each graduating class averaging about 3.4 million students until 2025.

Although the total number of graduates will stabilize during the next decade, the racial composition of future graduating classes will change significantly, as the graph from the report shows below. Latino graduates will see the most growth gaining more than 277,000 graduates by 2025. Similarly, WICHE projects the number of Asian/Pacific Islander graduates also will increase by more than 25,000. Meanwhile white students, who once represented 70 percent of all high school graduates, will see the greatest decline in total number of graduates and in the proportion of the graduating class they represent, according to the report. WICHE projects that the Class of 2025 will have 113,000 fewer white graduates than the Class of 2013, while the Class of 2032 will have 252,000 fewer white graduates. Within the next fifteen years, white students will comprise just 53 percent of high school graduates as demographics continue to shift. The number of African American graduates also will decline slightly, with the Class of 2025 having about 2,900 fewer African American graduates than the Class of 2013.

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High school graduation patterns also will vary geographically during the next decade. Between now and 2025, the number of high school graduates from the South and West will increase, while the number from the Midwest and Northeast will decline, as the graph from the report shows below. By 2025, the South will produce almost 47 percent of the nation’s high school graduates—1.35 million graduates for that year’s class, the report says. Meanwhile, the West will produce about 860,000 graduates, representing about 30 percent of the Class of 2025. Together California and Texas, classified as a western and southern state respectively in the report, currently produce 22 percent of the nation’s high school graduates. They will remain the top two producing states for the next decade, the report adds.

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“As graduations level out and even decline in many states, and the minority students increase across the board, states and their K–12 and higher education leaders have an important opportunity to ensure that they close achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color,” Garcia adds. “Equally important, our higher education systems must establish policies and practices that will lead to greater attainment of degrees and certificates for students of color.”

Kristen Loschert is editorial director at the Alliance for Excellent Education.


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