Facts on the High School Dropout Rate


Every single school day, 7,000 students drop out of high school -- roughly 1.2 million students each year -- according to a 2011 report from the Alliance for Excellent Education. In the past 40 years, the U.S. has dropped from No. 1 in the world in high school graduation to 21st, and although that rate has climbed to its highest level in 40 years, the dropout problem persists. For students who don't complete high school, there are wide-reaching effects, from lower lifetime income to higher incarceration rates. And although the U.S. has made progress, with 78 percent of students graduating, there are still several startling trends in the dropout data.

Poverty Fuels Dropout Rates

  • Schools districts with a high percentage of students who receive free and reduced lunch have significantly lower graduation rates than higher income districts. According to the AEE report, students in lower income districts are about six times more likely to drop out of high school than students in districts with access to more resources.

Dropout Rates and Race

  • Looking at U.S. dropout rates, it's clear minority students are less likely to finish high school. According to the 2013 Building a Grad Nation report, roughly one-third of African-American students do not receive a high school diploma; the same is true for 30 percent of Hispanic students.

Future Earnings

  • It pays to have a high school diploma. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012, the unemployment rate for high school dropouts -- 12.3 percent -- was nearly twice the national average. Further, students without high school diplomas earned $471 each week, compared to $652 for high school graduates and $1,066 for college graduates.

Dropouts and Crime

  • A 2008 study from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids found that nearly 70 percent of inmates at state prisons were high school dropouts, and researchers at Northeastern University found similar results, putting the number at 63 percent.

    Further, Fight Crime discovered that students lacking high school diplomas are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested and eight times more likely to be sent to jail.

"Dropout Factories"

  • In the U.S., one-third of high schools have graduation rates of 90 percent or more. Unfortunately, a small percentage of U.S. high schools retain students at much lower rates, 60 percent or fewer, and these ailing schools have been dubbed "dropout factories." In the past decade the number of these schools has declined, but there are still more than 1,400 in the U.S. In 2011 one-quarter of all African-American students and 17 percent of Hispanic students attended a "dropout factory," compared to only 5 percent of white students.

Girls vs. Boys

  • Across all races, female students graduate at a higher rate than their male peers. In 2011, AEE found that three-quarters of female students graduate, compared to 68 percent of male students.

Dropout Rates by State

  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Nevada, Washington, D.C., and Mississippi have the highest dropout rates. In Nevada, 57.8 students graduate from high school, and in D.C. the graduate rate is roughly 60 percent. Mississippi comes in third at 63 percent. Just two states -- Vermont and Wisconsin -- graduate 90 percent or more of their high schoolers.


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