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Graduation Rates the Highest in Four Decades; Plenty of Work Still Remains

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June 07, 2013 03:47 pm


Four decades have passed since the nation’s high school graduation rate has been as high as it is this year, according to the latest edition of Education Week’s esteemed Diplomas Count report . The report estimates that the nation’s overall high school graduation rate for the graduating class of 2013 is 74.7 percent, up from 73.4 percent in last year’s class, and up 7.9 percentage points from ten years ago. The 74.7 mark is one that American schools haven’t reached since 1973.

Well this is all good news, you say, but what about those pesky and persistent graduation rate gaps between students of different races and ethnicities? Graduation rates for White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander students all increased between the classes of 2012 and 2013. Black students saw their graduation rate increase three percentage points to 61.7 percent, while Hispanic students made a jump of more than five percentage points to 68.1 percent. These gains capped off a strong decade that saw Black and Hispanic students’ graduation rates increase by 16 and 13 points respectively. Education Week reports that “The white-Latino diploma gap nearly halved in the past decade, with the black-white gap shrinking by almost 30 percent.” American Indian/Alaska Native students have seen much more modest gains in the past decade (just three percentage points), and from 2012 to 2013 their graduation rate dropped by two points to 53.1 percent.

Amidst this mostly good news is a stubborn and sobering fact: the Class of 2013 has an estimated 1 million nongraduates who will leave school without a high school diploma. These nongraduates, more than a quarter of the graduating class, show how much more work is still left to accomplish in the American education system.

Those nongraduates are the focus of this year’s Diplomas Count beyond the rates themselves. Titled “Second Chances: Turning Dropouts Into Graduates,” the report considers dropout recovery, which has been widely neglected nationally. In an accompanying article , Sarah D. Sparks writes, “Educators and researchers who work with at-risk students say there is no way to really achieve the Graduation Nation goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020 without taking time to find, bring back, and keep the students who have already fallen through the cracks, at a rate of roughly 1 million every year.”

The Alliance has long recognized the lost potential of these nongraduates. Our work on the intersection of education and the economy considers the economic benefits from converting dropouts to high school graduates. For the Class of 2011, for example, raising the graduation rate to 90 percent would have spurred the economy through an estimated:

  • $9.1 billion in increased annual earnings
  • $6.7 billion in increased annual spending
  • $22.8 billion in increased home sales and $854 million in increased auto sales by the midpoint of the new graduates’ careers
  • 47,000 new jobs
  • $8.4 billion in increased annual economic growth
  • $2.2 billion in increased annual tax revenue at all levels

Those gains are surely attractive to cash-strapped governments and communities at all levels. To obtain these benefits, a commitment to the idea that more education spurs a stronger economy must be made. The latest Diplomas Count report shows that our nation is, by and large, making progress, but we must keep up this momentum and be ever mindful of the still unacceptably high number of students who do not make it to the stage to receive their diplomas.


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.