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Research Talking Points on Dropout Statistics

High School Attendance, Graduation, Completion, & Dropout Statistics

Who stays? Who goes?
  • Five out of every 100 young adults enrolled in high school in October 1999 left school before October 2000 without successfully completing a high school program. The percentage of young adults who left school each year without successfully completing a high school program decreased from 1972 through 1987. Despite year-to-year fluctuations, the percentage of students dropping out of school each year has stayed relatively unchanged since 1987.
  • In 2000, young adults living in families with incomes in the lowest 20 percent of all family incomes were six times as likely as their peers from families in the top 20 percent of the income distribution to drop out of high school.
  • In 2000, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 64.1 percent of all Hispanic 18- through 24-year-olds had completed secondary schooling. This compares with 91.8 percent of White, 83.7 percent of Black, and 94.6 percent of Asian young adults.
    NCES's table showing graduation rates by race/ethnicity 
  • However, in contrast to the figures released by the National Center for Education Statistics, a study released by The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University (CRP) and the Urban Institute in 2004 shows that only about 68 percent of all students nationally who enter 9th grade will graduate "on time" with regular diplomas in 12th grade. While the graduation rate for White students is 75 percent, only approximately half of Black, Latino, and Native American students earn regular diplomas alongside their classmates. Graduation rates are even lower for minority males.

Youth who drop out are more likely to experience negative outcomes such as unemployment, underemployment, or incarceration.

  • High school dropouts are 72 percent more likely to be unemployed as compared to high school graduates (U.S. Department of Labor, 2003).
  • Nearly 80 percent of individuals in prison do not have a high school diploma (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1995).
  • According to the National Longitudinal Transition Study of special education students, the arrest rates of youth with disabilities who dropped out were significantly higher than those who had graduated (Wagner et al., 1991).
  • A survey by the Department of Justice in the early 1990s estimated that a black male born in 1991 stood a 28 percent chance of going to prison; an update in 2003 put the odds at 33 percent.

Additionally, the costs associated with the incidence of dropout for society are immense.

  • Approximately 47 percent of high school dropouts are employed compared to 64 percent of high school graduates not in college (National Center for Education Statistics, 1995).
  • Students who graduate from high school earn an average of $9,245 more money per year than students who do not complete school (Employment Policy Foundation, 2001).
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the 2001 unemployment rate for adults over 25 without a high school diploma was 7.2 percent. That figure dropped to 4.2 percent for high school graduates without any college and to 2.3 percent for those with a bachelor's degree or higher.

Why do students drop out?

  • The strongest predictors that a student is likely to drop out are family characteristics such as: socioeconomic status, family structure, family stress (e.g., death, divorce, family moves), and the mother's age. Students who come from low-income families, are the children of single, young, unemployed mothers, or who have experienced high degrees of family stress are more likely than other students to drop out of school. Of those characteristics, low socioeconomic status has been shown to bear the strongest relationship to students' tendency to drop out.
  • The tendency for students to drop out is also associated with their school experiences. According to the U.S. Department of Education, students drop out of school for the following reasons: Dislike of school; low academic achievement; retention at grade level; a sense that teachers and administrators do not care about students; and inability to feel comfortable in a large, depersonalized school setting (1999).

What about high school alternatives, like the GED?

  • For high school dropouts, earning a GED is the only opportunity to prepare for better jobs and reenter the education pipeline.
    GEDs Awarded Per 1,000 Adults with Less than a HS Diploma
  • The total number of people tested plummeted to 603,019 in 2002 from 1,069,899 in 2001, while the total number of people who passed the GED fell 47.3 percent to 360,444 from 683,866 in 2001. This is largely due to the introduction of a new and different form of the GED test.
  • In 2002, only 1 percent of adults in the United States without a high school diploma passed the GED Tests and earned their jurisdiction’s high school diploma.
  • The average age of GED passers in the United States was 23.8 years. In order to test, students under the age of 18 must meet their state’s compulsory attendance requirements and state GED age requirements.
  • Men were more likely to pass the GED tests in 2002 than women; 58.2 percent of men and 41.8 percent of women passed.
  • Forty-six percent of GED passers reported completing 11 or more years of formal education, while another 28.3 percent left school after completing the tenth grade.
  • More than one in three passers (37.6 percent) were out of school for two years or less, and almost one in four (23.7 percent) were last enrolled in school three to five years ago

NEA Policy on High School Attendance, Graduation, Completion and Dropouts

NEA has long supported the concept of a high school education for all and believes that every student should earn a high school diploma or its equivalent (NEA Resolution, B-5). In fact, this policy has been on the books since 1976 – more than 30 years. In 2004, the Representative Assembly passed a New Business Item opposing "barrier tests," which deny promotion or graduation to students. Most recently, the legislative agenda pursued by the NEA or the 109th Congress (2005) included a call for federal programs designed to increase the high school graduation rate.

Selected References

American Council on Education
ACE runs the GED testing program and offers information about the program on its Web site.

American School Board Journal
The September 2005 issue provides an in-depth look at learning behind bars and the characteristics of youthful offenders.
(available to non-ASBJ members by paid subscription only)

National Center for Education Statistics
This is the Web site for all official government statistics regarding education. Special studies on dropouts by race and ethnicity; graphs, charts and tables available.

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
OJJDP provides in-depth information on characteristics of the juvenile population.

Silent Crisis: Large Numbers of Youth Are Not Completing High School.
Web resource offering facts, figures and links to sources of information about high school completion.

National Center for Higher Education Management Systems
This Web site offers a wide variety of statistical information on a state-by-state basis (e.g., GEDs awarded by state, public high school graduation rates, AP exams).

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
NCSET offers information about high school and graduation for youths with disabilities.

                                                                                                                                                               - Denise McKeon, NEA Research
                                                                                                                                                                                                 February 2006