August 17, 2020

High School Graduation Rates Continue to Move in the Right Direction

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically disrupted the end of the last academic year and has already changed how the 2020–2021 school year will unfold. However, recently released data — which speaks to pre-pandemic trends in education — is encouraging.

The United States extended its long record of steady or improved graduation rates through the 2017–2018 school year, which is the most recent year of data available.

Nationwide, 15% of high school students failed to graduate on time — the same rate as the 2016–2017 school year and an improvement of 3 percentage points compared to 2013–2014.

Also reassuring: Timely graduation rates for four racial or ethnic groups grew more common from 2016–2017 to 2017–2018. And, while disparities remain a persistent concern, no racial or ethnic group has experienced a year-over-year increase in the share of students failing to graduate on time since 2013–2014.

A closer look at these trends reveal:

  • For Non-Hispanic American Indian students: The likelihood of failing to graduate on time improved by 1 percentage point — to 27% — from 2016–2017 to 2017–2018 and 3 percentage points over the last five academic years. Despite these gains, Non-Hispanic American Indian students are still most likely to miss the graduation mark when compared to their peers in all other racial and ethnic groups.

  • For Non-Hispanic Black students: The likelihood of failing to graduate on time improved by 1 percentage point — to 21% — from 2016–2017 to 2017–2018 and 7 percentage points over the last five academic years. No other racial or ethnic groups experienced such a significant improvement over the same five-year period.

  • For Hispanic or Latino students of all races: The likelihood of failing to graduate on time improved by 1 percentage point — to 19% — from 2016–2017 to 2017–2018 and 5 percentage points over the last five academic years.

  • For Non-Hispanic white students: The likelihood of failing to graduate on time held steady at 11% from 2016–2017 to 2017–2018 and improved by 2 percentage points over the last five academic years. Students in this demographic group continue to run the lowest risk of missing the graduation mark when compared to their peers of color.

High school graduation rates are a key indicator of child well-being in the United States and are tracked in the KIDS COUNT Index, which is reported annually in the KIDS COUNT Data Book.