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High School Graduation Rates [10 Useful Stats for 2020]

The high school graduation rate or ACGR (Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate), which represents the percentage of students who graduate from high school on time with a regular diploma, is one of the most important education metrics. 

The thing is:

High school is a vital rung on the educational ladder. The higher the percentage of high school graduates, the bigger the pool of college candidates, college graduates, and, ultimately, trained professionals. 

So, we decided to take a look at the statistics surrounding the average high school graduation rates over recent years.

What’s more:

We’ll also explore the fluctuations and the facts and trends that contribute to academic success in American public and private high schools. 

Let’s dive right in.

Amazing US High School Graduation Rate Facts (Editor’s Picks)

  • 3.7 million students will graduate from high school in 2020.
  • The national graduation rate in the United States is 84.6%.
  • Individual schools report 100% graduation rates.
  • The highest average graduation rate is recorded in Iowa (91%).
  • 20% of students are regularly absent from class.

American High School Graduation Statistics

1. The average rate has been increasing by 0.5% each year since 2010.

(NCES)

The number of students expected to graduate from US high schools in 2020 is estimated to be 3.7milion, with 3.3 million graduating from public schools.

Interesting fact:

The first high school completion rates and graduation rates were collected in a standardized way by the NCES in 2010. Since then, the rates increased from 79% to 85% in 2017. 

High school graduation rates usually go up by 0.4- 0.5% per year.

2. The national high school graduation rate in the United States is 84.6%.

(NCES; US News) 

The average graduation rates in the United States go from 72% to 94% according to the information collected from 16,404 high schools across the nation.

In the 2016/17 school year, the students belonging to the Asian Pacific-Islander demographic group had the highest graduation rates of 91%.

The percentages for White and Hispanic students were 89% and 80%. Additionally, Black students had a 78% graduation rate, while the lowest academic success, 72%, was reported for the American Indian-Alaska Native demographic group.

Looking at the high school graduation rates by gender we can see that 90.2% of women had graduated from high school in the United States compared to 89.4% of men, in 2018. This is a significant increase from 1960 when only 42% of women were likely to graduate. 

High School Graduation Rates by State

As we mentioned above, graduation rates can vary significantly across the United States. Let’s see which states tend to perform well in this metric and which ones need to up their game.

3. The highest high school graduation rates reached 91% in 2017.

(NCES)

The highest percentage of high school graduates in 2017 was recorded in Iowa, 91%, followed by New Jersey (90.5%), while Tennessee came in third, with the percentage at 89.8%.

4. Rates of 100%, were recorded in individual schools in Texas and North Carolina. 

(US News)

Some exceptional schools reached that perfect number for the class of 2017. The highest number of schools with a 100% graduation rate, 269 to be precise, was recorded in Texas, followed by North Carolina with 67. In seven states, there were no high schools that got as high as 100%.

5. States with the lowest high school graduation rates have only 72% of graduates per year. 

(NCES)

The lowest high school graduation rate (72%) was recorded in Arizona, New Mexico, and Oregon. Alaska, Louisiana, and Colorado followed, with rates as low as 78.2% for Alaska and Louisiana and 79.1% for Colorado.

6. Alabama’s rapid increase in graduation rates (from 72% to 86%) in 2014 raised questions about the accuracy of submitted data.

(Brookings.edu)

The rapid rise of graduation rates in some states made people suspicious. The ensuing investigation led to the discovery of quite a few adjustments schools pulled off. 

Check this out:

In some cases, they allowed students who hadn’t attended classes in over three months to graduate! 

And that’s not all:

Further investigation into these shady high school graduation rates revealed that some of the schools recognized diplomas that didn’t meet standards or knew the estimated rates in advance and simply adjusted them. 

The practice of helping students to graduate raised quite a few eyebrows and begs the question:  

How real is the overall increase?

Let’s check out a few more stats.

7. Only 6% of students do not finish high school at all.  

(NDPC; ChildTrendsOrg; Brookings.edu) 

What percentage of high school students graduate is in direct correlation with the number of students leaving school before time. But taking into account the percentage of those who do finish high school, just not in the standard four-year period, we have a lower number than one might imagine.

Here’s the thing:

Even if the graduation rate is 84.6%, the dropout rate is still only 6% for native students and 10% for those born outside of the US. High school dropout statistics offer us an insight into the reasons and underlying causes of abandoning highschool. 

8. 20% of students habitually miss classes.

(US Department of Education)

Attendance is crucial for academic success. Worryingly, chronic absenteeism is on the rise, with students missing over three weeks of school during the course of one year. The information gathered from public schools shows that over one in five students are missing classes on a regular basis.

Now:

One of the interesting high school graduation facts related to attendance is that in some states and counties, attendance rates were the source of the rapid increase of the graduation rates related to the controversy we discussed earlier. Alabama was one of them.

9. The gap between low-income high school graduation rates and high-income ones ranges from 15% to 28%. 

(The Atlantic)

Low-income students still fall far behind their peers, statistics show, with gaps as big as 28% in states like Minnesota. 

It’s evident that the graduation rate increase is reserved for those from higher-income families and schools.

And that’s not an isolated trend:

Up to 45 states have recorded a double-digit gap between the rich and the poor.

10. Private schools have a 95% graduation rate on average.

(ThoughtCo)

So far, we have focused on public school graduation rates collected by the Department of Education. Now we’ll take a look at the private sector. 

Statistics on high school graduation rates show that students attending private schools graduate at a high rate of 95%. This is usually due to higher family income and opportunities for those students, school funding, higher college ambitions, and more rigorous admission standards. 

An estimated 0.3 million students will graduate from private schools in America in 2020.

Which brings us to…

FAQ

Q: What percent of people graduate from high school?

Depending on the state, anywhere from 72% to 94% of students graduate from high school on time. Given that some students graduate later, and not within the course of the four years the statistics refer too, these numbers are slightly higher but still stay around 86% on average.

Q: What happens if you don’t graduate from high school?

Nearly 90% of jobs in America require a high school diploma, and almost 70% of students who have dropped out of school say they regret the decision and would change it given the chance.

People who don’t finish high school earn on average $19,000 a year, significantly less than those who graduated or went to college.

However, there are Adult Ed programs, the High School Equivalency Test, and the GED, which you can use to finish your education even without graduating. And in some states, like California, community colleges do not require a high school diploma, although some remedial courses might be needed. 

Q: Has the high school graduation rate increased?

High school graduation rates over time have seen a significant increase, while the total enrollment in high school has remained fairly stable in the last decade. The current on-time graduation rate is 84.6%, a 0.5% rise from last year. 

There is an ongoing controversy regarding the fast growth in some states (Alabama, Florida, the District of Columbia, and others). It involves students counted as graduates who didn’t meet the requirements.

In 2020 the expected number of high school graduates is estimated to be 3.7milion. 

Q: What states have the highest high school graduation rates?

The states with the highest high school graduation rates in the US are Iowa, New Jersey, and Tennessee. According to data from the US Department of Education, these states have a graduation rate of 91%.

New Jersey is behind them with a graduation rate of 90.5%, followed by Tennessee with 89.8%.  The data considers the 2017 graduation cohort, meaning students that started 9th grade in 2013-2014.

Texas and North Carolina have the highest number of individual schools with a 100% graduation rate, but neither reached that number as a whole. 

Summing up

Graduation rates have seen a slow but steady increase over the last decade. That being said, there’s more to be desired.

Here’s why: 

Increasing the US high school graduation rate to an average of 90% would create an additional 65,000 new jobs, giving the economy a massive 11 billion boost. 

The nationwide impact would not stop there: 

The 5% increase could potentially cut crime costs by a whopping 18.5 billion per year and lower the number of larcenies and assaults by 30 and 60K respectively.

This is huge!

Clearly, these are just some of the economic advantages of even better, high school graduation rates. 

What’s even more important:

The impact on the individual lives of students would be immeasurable, given that most high school dropouts regret the decision later in life. 

So, let’s hope the positive trend continues!

Sources:

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