Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Record Shares of Young Adults Have Finished Both High School and College

Section 3: High School Completion Among Young Adults

Increases in high school completion have been quite modest. Nonetheless, high school completion among young adults is at its highest level ever in 2012 at 90%, up from 89% in 2011. Gains in high school completion have been incremental, however, as the share of adults ages 25 to 29 completing high school had reached 86% as early as 1979.2

As the accompanying table shows, noteworthy changes in high school attainment include:

  • Male high school completion reached its highest level on record in 2012 (88%).3
  • Three-quarters of Hispanics ages 25 to 29 had completed at least a high school education in 2012, and Hispanic high school attainment significantly increased over the previous record of 71% in 2011.
  • 2012 marks the first time 76% of foreign- born young adults have completed at least a high school education. Immigrant high school attainment in 2012 was significantly above the prior record (71%) reached in 2011.
  1. The trend in high school completion presented counts GED recipients as high school completers. This inclusion may be of consequence. Studies that attempt to measure the high school graduation rate, counting only those who receive a high school diploma as “graduates,” find that high school graduation rates have either stagnated or fallen over time (Heckman and LaFontaine, 2007).
  2. Trends in male high school completion are noteworthy because much of the moribund performance of the U.S. in secondary education is attributed to male outcomes. For example, “Notably, the stagnation of the overall U.S. high school graduation rate among post-1950 birth cohorts is similarly driven by declines among males” (Acemoglu and Autor, 2012). The male high school completion rate had either been at 87% or less between 1977 and 2011.
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