Ready For Some Good News? U.S. Graduation Rate Hits 80 Percent For First Time Ever

For the first time in U.S. history, the nation’s high school graduation rate rose above 80 percent in 2012, and the 90 percent milestone may be just around the corner, according to the 2014 Building a GradNation report released on Monday by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center, America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education.

“Our progress is amazing. Close to 400,000 more students per high school class are graduating now than in 2001 and more than 1 million fewer students attend dropout factories,” said Robert Balfanz, co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

Some of the good news in the report:

  • Since 2006, the national graduation rate has increased approximately eight percentage points over six years.
  • The gains have been driven by a 15-percentage point increase for Hispanic students and a 9-percentage point increase for African American students.
  • So called “dropout factories” – schools that graduate fewer than 60 percent of students- decreased from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,359 in 2012, a significant 32 percent decline. The number of students enrolled in these schools has dropped by almost half over the last decade.

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Closing these dropout factories is just one of the initiatives implemented by districts and local governments to improve the graduation rate. Researchers also say the heightened national awareness of the dropout problem has helped move efforts forward and credit an increased hiring of intervention specialists in schools.

Still, more progress needs to be made if the nation is to going to reach that 90 percent milestone by 2020. The GradNation report spotlights the need for new and ongoing initiatives to target the lagging graduation rates for low-income students, special education students, students of color, and the still high number of dropout factories in urban areas.

GradNation’s policy recommendations include a focus on chronic absenteeism, the improvement of middle schools, reengaging dropouts, and providing stronger adult and peer support mechanisms.

While the dropout challenge is no longer ” a silent epidemic,” says John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises and co-author of the report, now is not the time to allow the nation’s resolve to slacken.

“For the first time, the nation is on pace to meet the 90 percent high school graduation rate goal. While this is a historic milestone, graduation gaps affecting our most disadvantaged students threaten our progress in reaching this goal and fulfilling the American dream for all,” Bridgeland says.