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2016: Best Year in U.S History for High School Completion

The Importance of Finishing High School

The National Institute for Educational Statistics reports that individuals who graduate from high school earn an average of just over forty thousand dollars a year, and individuals who do not graduate from high school earn an average of just over twenty thousand dollars a year. When looking closely at these numbers, it’s clear that the difference between finishing high school and not finishing high school is a big deal. It’s very close to being an indicator of whether or not an individual is able to meet their basic needs for living, such as means food, rent, medical insurance and other essential expenses.

Amid much talk about the state of education in the U.S., a report published last fall by Fact Tank, an arm of the Pew Research Center, brings good news about our national high school graduation rates.

In 2016, they reached an all-time national high.

Traditional High School Graduation Rates

The United States Department of Education (USDOE) has been closely tracking high school graduation and dropout rates since 1972. For the purposes of this article, completion and dropout refer to students who began high school or ninth grade and did not finish twelfth grade.

The USDOE statistics show that between 1972 and 2009, graduation and dropout rates were closely related to the student’s family income level. Students from higher income families showed the highest graduation rates and the lowest dropout rates. Students from lower income families showed the lowest graduation rates and the highest dropout rates. However, while graduation and dropout rates for students from higher income families remained relatively stable between 1972 and 2009—a graduation rate of about ninety-eight percent and a dropout rate of around two percent—graduation and dropout rates for students from lower income rates showed a steady improvement.

In 1972, the graduation rate for students from lower income families was around eighty-four percent and the dropout rate around sixteen percent, while in 2009, the graduation rose to ninety-two percent and the dropout rate fell to eight percent. The combined national completion rate rose from roughly eighty-six percent in 1972 to roughly ninety-two percent in 2009, while the national dropout rate dropped from roughly fourteen percent in 1972 to  just over eight percent in 2009.

Highest Gains for Hispanic High School Students

Last year’s report from FactTank indicated that the national high school dropout rate for 2016 was six percent. That was an all-time national low. The report showed that most dramatic improvements came in the past sixteen years. In the year 2000, the national dropout rate was at twelve percent. That was only a two percent improvement over the preceding thirty years.

Digging deeper into the numbers reveals that the greatest gains came from one particular subset of U.S. youth: Hispanic students. Between 1996 and 2016, their high school dropout rate dropped from thirty-four percent to ten percent. Compared to other ethnic groups over this period, this improvement was stellar. The rate for African-American students dropped from sixteen percent to seven percent. The rate for Caucasians the rate dropped from eight percent to five percent. And the dropout rate for Asian high school students dropped from five percent to three percent. The data analysts from FactTank attribute the improvement in dropout rates for the U.S. to chnages seen in the Hispanic community.

High School: The Long-Term Impact

Over the course of an individual’s lifetime, finishing high school translates to close almost half a million dollars of income. While it’s true that money isn’t everything, the fact is that in the U.S., it takes money to buy everything. One lesson to pass on to teenagers thinking about dropping out of high school is readily apparent. If they do drop out, the statistics show that they are likely to place themselves at an economic disadvantage. They have a better chance at earning a reasonable wage if they stay the course.

The publication of the most recent statistics on high school graduation and dropout rates show our teachers and parents are doing a good job at imparting this lesson. The numbers are the best they’ve been in our history, which means that our youth have a solid foundation. Statistically speaking, better than ever. This is good news for our youth and those in education who’ve helped them make it through high school. It’s also good news for business, industry, and our society as a whole.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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