October 2, 2014

U.S. high school dropout rate reaches record low, driven by improvements among Hispanics, blacks

US high school dropout rate reaches new low
AP Photo/Burlington Times-News, Sam Roberts

More U.S. high school students are staying in school, according to newly released data from the Census Bureau, as the national dropout rate reached a record low last year. Just 7% of the nation’s 18-to-24 year olds had dropped out of high school, continuing a steady decline in the nation’s dropout rate since 2000, when 12% of youth were dropouts.

Hispanic and Black High School Dropout Rates Lowest on RecordThe decline in the national dropout rate has been driven, in part, by substantially fewer Hispanic and black youth dropping out of school (the non-Hispanic white dropout rate has not fallen as sharply). Although Hispanics still have the highest dropout rate among all major racial and ethnic groups, it reached a record-low of 14% in 2013, compared with 32% of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds who were dropouts in 2000.

The new data show significant progress over the past decade at other measures of educational attainment among Hispanic youth: Not only are fewer dropping out of high school, but more are finishing high school and attending college. The only exception is that Hispanics continue to substantially trail white youth in obtaining bachelor’s degrees.

Young Dropout Population Lowest on RecordThe decline in the size of the Hispanic dropout population has been particularly noteworthy because it’s happened at the same time that the Hispanic youth population is growing. The number of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-old dropouts peaked at 1.5 million in 2001 and fell to 889,000 by 2013, even though the size of the Hispanic youth population has grown by more than 50% since 2000. The last time the Census Bureau counted fewer than 900,000 Hispanic dropouts was in 1987.

Aside from the Great Recession, the trend in more Hispanic youth staying in school is occurring against the backdrop of diminishing job opportunities for less-educated workers, including less-educated Hispanic workers. Hispanic students and their families may be responding to the rising returns to a college education by staying in school.

Young Hispanic High School Completion Rate Highest on RecordIndeed, census data show that Hispanics have reached a record high school completion rate.

Among Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds, 79% had completed high school compared with 60% who did so in 2000. High school completion rates have also been rising for other racial and ethnic groups, but their rates were not at record highs in 2013.

For Hispanics, education has long been a top issue; in Pew Research surveys, Hispanics often rank education as one of the most important issues, along with health care and immigration. Hispanics also made up 25% of the nation’s public school students in 2013, with that share projected to rise to 30% by 2022.

Hispanics have also made progress in college enrollment at two- and four-year schools. Among college students ages 18 to 24, Hispanics accounted for 18% of college enrollment in 2013, up from 12% as recently as 2009, according to the new census data.

But young Hispanics still lag behind in earning four-year college degrees. Hispanic students account for just 9% of young adults (ages 25 to 29) with a bachelor’s degree. By comparison, whites account for about 58% of students ages 18 to 24 enrolled in college and 69% of young adults with a bachelor’s degree.

The dropout rate for black youth also was at a record low in 2013 (8%) and has fallen by nearly half since 2000 (15%). Blacks comprised 16% of the nation’s public school students in 2013, with that share projected to fall to 15% by 2022.

Among non-Hispanic white youth, the dropout rate has also declined since 2000 to 5% in 2013.

Asian youth continue to be the major racial group with the lowest high school dropout rate (4% in 2013), but it was not at a record low last year.

Topics: College, Education

  1. Photo of Richard Fry

    is a senior researcher focusing on economics and education at Pew Research Center.

35 Comments

  1. faith1 year ago

    what is the total number of students that drop out in the years 2013- 2015

  2. Carol2 years ago

    Why are you concentrating on 18 to 24 year old for high school students Most have already graduated by 18. How many drop out before that like from 14-18. This does not tell us if these are GED students trying to get their certificate or just bad schools/students not taking care of business I agree with Lea McAndrews-we are not helping the student if we are only passing them and not making then attend school or do the homework or read. We are doing more harm than good. Getting a diploma should mean something. Is this another scam?

  3. DM2 years ago

    And yet just yesterday I read that 60% of community college students require remedial coursework. Of those who require these remedial courses, 75% do not complete an Associate Degree within 3 years. So it might be that high schools are just passing the responsibility for learning up to the next level where students must pay for the education themselves. Great news if your goal is to sack the poor with high student loan debt and keep the taxpayers funding the PELL system.

  4. ValenciYsx2 years ago

    Spot on with this write-up, I truly believe this website needs a lot more attention. I’ll probably be back again to see more, thanks for the information!

  5. AnnoyedBlackPerson2 years ago

    This is a one-sided article that only focuses on Hispanics when in the title it says “Hispanics, blacks”. Misleading title needs to be re-worded.

  6. Thomas Oriya2 years ago

    Am a public health PhD student at Walden University and intend to initiate social change project targeting the high drop out in primary schools in kisumu county in kenya starting January 2015. Your study has given me some insight to prevention and intervention of this issue. While US and kenya are world apart, your lessons are a great guide.
    Thomas Oriya.

  7. Lea McAndrews2 years ago

    They may be graduating at higher rates, but many are functionally illiterate. I spoke to a college professor who told me that they can *not* force students to read books, they cannot be *mean* and all students must pass. So. What are you trying to create? Idiocracy?

    Cases in point: One student asked her to write him a letter for grad school. She told him “no” because he was illiterate. She actually told him that. Another student, an English major, boasted that he had made it all the way through school without having read a book. An English major. I am appalled by that, and bet that you are not.

    Of course all you need to do is read the comments of any internet comment section to see the depths to which American society has sunk. They’re-There-Their?
    Spelling errors galore and inability to communicate with clarity. It is epidemic, and where you have most everyone “graduating” it’s not to the benefit of society. It’s just numbers to justify YOUR existences.

    1. Joanne Lee1 year ago

      So you spoke with one college professor and have come to the conclusion that minorities graduating have a magnitude of learning deficiencies. Really? Are you honestly generalizing entire races of people? Maybe you should stay off the internet for a while. Instead of portraying yourself as this arrogant person as you are doing. Especially with this comment,” Another student, an English major, boasted that he had made it all the way through school without having read a book. An English major. I am appalled by that, and bet that you are not”. Get out there and influence people with your education instead of simply insulting them behind a computer screen.

      1. J Fahey1 year ago

        The author,you have the nerve to critique is spot on. There has been a marked degradation of basic writing skills since the 60’s. More recently, schools have turned into centers for political indoctrination and social engineering rather than centers for learning usable life skills. They are taught what to believe rather than being taught skills, facts and how to think critically.

        Reading writing and arithmetic are no longer valued as they once were. The above writer sees it at the college level. We’ve been seeing it for decades in the business world. Your attacki of the messager here means you are clearly part of the problem
        .

  8. Erik2 years ago

    Interesting data! It obviously correlates well with teen birth rates decreasing during the last 5-10 years. Wonder if Pew has looked at the casual relationship between drop out rates and teen birth rates?

    1. Richard Fry2 years ago

      I concur that declining teen birth rates might be contributing to the dropoff in high school dropout rates. No, the Pew Research Center has not investigated that relationship. Thanks.

  9. estrella2 years ago

    The new data show significant progress over the past decade at other measures of educational attainment among Hispanic youth: Not only are fewer dropping out of high school, but more are finishing high school and attending college. The only exception is that Hispanics continue to substantially trail white youth in obtaining bachelor’s degrees.

    The decline in the size of the Hispanic dropout population has been particularly noteworthy because it’s happened at the same time that the Hispanic youth population is growing. The number of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-old dropouts peaked at 1.5 million in 2001 and fell to 889,000 by 2013, even though the size of the Hispanic youth population has grown by more than 50% since 2000. The last time the Census Bureau counted fewer than 900,000 Hispanic dropouts was in 1987.

    Aside from the Great Recession, the trend in more Hispanic youth staying in school is occurring against the backdrop of diminishing job opportunities for less-educated workers, including less-educated Hispanic workers. Hispanic students and their families may be responding to the rising returns to a college education by staying in school.

    Indeed, census data show that Hispanics have reached a record high school completion rate.

    Among Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds, 79% had completed high school compared with 60% who did so in 2000. High school completion rates have also been rising for other racial and ethnic groups, but their rates were not at record highs in 2013.

    For Hispanics, education has long been a top issue; in Pew Research surveys, Hispanics often rank education as one of the most important issues,

  10. Frank Daley2 years ago

    Any upward change is an improvement, even though I’m skeptical re the standards of some of the high school systems. This is mentioned in earlier comments.

    There are so many reasons for the dropout rate (financial, cultural, family, etc.).
    Once you get some of those things covered, minimally, the biggest reason is a lack of self-knowledge. When you don’t know who you are (what your gifts, abilities and talents are) and what want, you flounder at school, and in life.
    Self-knowledge is the key–past the money and even then.

    1. Laura8 months ago

      I agree that self-knowledge is a critical component of academic success, however, making this form of knowledge the primary focus in school can eclipse the important systemic barriers that low-income students face. How can we expect students to gain insight into their skills, abilities, and strengths if they exist in a school system and in a community where the resources necessary to succeed are so scarce? Self-knowledge should be a product of improving a system to better support student success instead of placing responsibility on the students to succeed despite failures in these systems.

  11. D. Feldman2 years ago

    The Current Population Survey measure of graduation rates includes those who say they earned a GED. (Very different from the adjusted cohort measures public schools are required to use.) I am not familiar with the most recent research on the topic, but historically GED recipients have not done as well as diploma recipients in terms of employment, earnings and educational attainment. Would be useful to know what portion of “graduates” in the Survey were GED vs. diploma holders.

  12. M D Stock2 years ago

    Have you been able to determine whether the promise of the DREAM Act or the Obama Administration’s “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program played any role in the decrease in dropout rates? The DREAM Act and DACA both require a person to graduate from high school. While the DREAM Act has not yet passed, some 600,000 young people were approved for DACA benefits since the program started in 2012, and it would be interesting to know whether the fall in Hispanic and black dropout rates had anything to do with DACA’s requirement for a high school diploma. Also, a young person who lacks any immigration status cannot work legally in the United States–but is allowed to attend public school through graduation. The inability to work legally might provide an additional incentive to stay in school.

    1. Lisa2 years ago

      College enrollment among hispanics has been increasing at a steady rate and surpassing whites for a while now (see pewhispanic.org/topics/college) and seems it will continue to do so because dropout rates are decreasing. Nothing to do with DACA or DREAM, all to do with the culture and, hopefully, assimilation.

  13. Muthyavan.2 years ago

    The sharp drop in unemployment is due to partly because high school drop out has decreased to a lower level in record. Next step will be it will soon reflect on a sharp drop in crime among young offenders soon. This might take at least five more years, and there will be gradual reduction on crime rate on all age group in years to come. Education is the best way of building a strong ,crime free society.

    1. joe2 years ago

      there has already been a sharp drop in crime. it is down nearly 50% since the 90’s.

  14. jay2 years ago

    it would be nice to see data on why the rate has decreased in blacks and hispanics

  15. Nancy McG2 years ago

    I work with schools with a majority of Native Amercian students. What is their dropout rate now?

    1. Richard Fry2 years ago

      I do not know. The estimates in this post are based on the Current Population Survey. The Census Bureau does not publish drop-out rates for American Indian and Alaskan natives on the basis of the Current Population Survey. The Census Bureau also collects a larger survey called the American Community Survey. They also publish dropout rates using this latter survey. I was hoping to find a recent estimate of the dropout rate for American Indians and Alaska natives, but I do not see one published on their website. I am sorry.

  16. William2 years ago

    I would just like to highlight the influx of “marks for dollars” high schools that are popping up in North America. What can basically be described as a “black market for high school marks”, institutions are taking anywhere from $500-1000 per course are nearly-guaranteeing passing and even high marks in said courses.

    thestar.com/news/gta/2011/09/18/…

    I believe the general shyness of the North American student from the strong academics, A.K.A Math, Sciences, and English prove this point further. Universities are also realizing the lack of enforcement from educational boards across the continent.

    1. robinwetter2 years ago

      Thank you, this is happening in too many public schools too. Accountability is low in many districts now. Makes really sad, as I’ve been teaching 20 years, and academic excellence has decreased while graduating rates are decreasing. Child centered and making the student feel good about themselves. I was just told a 10th grader doesn’t have to master solving equations! Not all students are capable. I disagree, solving equations can be done by everyone.

  17. Howard Reston2 years ago

    Nobody is eager to drop out of school unless there is something better to do with one’s life. Also, I would suggest that rampant grade inflation might have something to do with it also. when a country moves from a subject-matter mastery educational system that it was until roughly 1960, to a child-centered school syster which it had transitioned into by 1990, the idea of giving grades to mark levels of mastery becomes a bit nonsensical to many.

  18. J Mooers2 years ago

    Wish this was the story for the State of Arizona.
    Ours seems to just keep getting worse.
    Our legislators got the state out of financial problems by cutting the school budgets. The citizens on an initiative passed a law to return funding. The State has been contesting the return of school money for years. The District Court and Appeals Court, has ruled, Arizona must pay up the money back to the schools. After 4 years, it is still being appealed in yet another appellate court by the State.

  19. Bill McGarry2 years ago

    It is stated that the recession caused many Hispanics to stay in high school because of lack of employment, yet your graft shows a steady decline through the years leading up to the recession. If the lack of employment made such a difference, wouldn’t there be a noticeable dip in 2009? The reduction seems to be steady. There is a noticeable dip for the Asians though, which could be for lack of good jobs that were cut. Maybe the lower end jobs mostly likely under the minimum wage, weren’t effected as much, which the Hispanics probably were part of.

    1. Richard Fry2 years ago

      I concur that it is often asserted that dropping out of school is procyclical, i.e., that dropping out of school increases when GDP is close to potential and the unemployment rate is low. There is evidence that community college enrollments fall when the economy is good. I have never done detailed research on whether the Hispanic high school dropout rate is related to the young Hispanic unemp rate and thus I can not weigh in on that relationship.

      But I do agree with you that the changes in the Hispanic dropout rate are not just recession related. Hispanic dropout rates were already on the decline before 2008 and the onset of the Great Recession. I suspect that more is afoot than just the Great Recession and the modest recovery thereafter.

  20. Nimmond Lockhart2 years ago

    Great news Richard exactly what I needed. I’m in the mist of developing a 2015 calendar called, Plight of the Black Man. It covers a journey from the time of slavery to executive power, and everything in the middle. It ask the question. “Just how far have Black America really come?”

    One of the eras covered in the calendar is Black folks self-inflected pain. As you know, education is a big eyesore. The other is fatherless children. I’m stumbling over the numbers and the perception. Is this trend finally headed south?
    If you get a chance see what the calendar is all about. view the images at youtube.com/watch?v=Doyzzr5CFBA. My website, southdademonitor.com, will give you a vision of the layout.There is nothing else like it. I would love your opinion.

    Thank you for the great news!

  21. Paul Mika2 years ago

    Why don’t the charts show state by state rates?
    I am sure New Mexico would be the higher dropout rate states.
    The news I hear and read is dismal for New Mexico. Very high dropout rates and getting higher.
    A major change is required. Whether the issue is cultural or educational it must change.

    1. Richard Fry2 years ago

      The new Census data is from the October Current Population Survey. While very recent, this survey is only available at the national level and the Census Bureau does not publish state by state information from that particular survey.

  22. Tim Ready2 years ago

    If these numbers are from the Census, then they include immigrants who come to the US as young adults (18-24). It seems likely to me that the improved numbers for Hispanics reflect rapid growth in the number and percent of hispanic youth born in the US, or at least raised in the US from an early age — which greatly increases the probability of high school completion. It may also reflect a dip in the number of young adult immigrants associated with the great recession.

    1. Richard Fry2 years ago

      I concur. The changing demographics of the 18- to 24-year-old Hispanic population could be playing a role.

  23. Packard Day2 years ago

    Although I hope for the best with these promising sets of graduation data, I remain skeptical of what it all means. This is because what constitutes a high school graduate is a variable that can be easily manipulated by the very same people who also stand to profit most from the manipulation. For example, here is a research question: Do the new high school graduates display anymore cognitive learning (i.e. standardized test scores) or improved behavior characteristics (i.e. attendance, truancy, delinquency, future college attendance, etc) than did high school dropouts from ten years ago?
    Sadly, when teachers and administrators are rewarded for achieving one particular goal like a graduation rate, oftentimes the definitions and organizational policies meant to meet those goals become somewhat…how should we say this?…”flexible.” If that makes sense.

    1. Richard Fry2 years ago

      Yes, these numbers do not address the “college and career” readiness of high school completers or how much they have learned or their cognitive abilities upon graduation. It is fair to contemplate that dimension and these Census statistics do not address that.