High School Dropout Rate

Last Updated: September 13, 2021 by Melanie Hanson

Report Highlights. The high school dropout rate is 5.1%.

  • Hispanic students had the highest dropout rate at 6.5%
  • 36% of students who have a disability (physical or learning) drop out of high school. 
  • Over half of alternative schools have graduation rates lower than 50%.
  • Students from families in lower socioeconomic status percentiles are 5 times more likely to drop out of high school.

Related reports include College Dropout Rate | College Graduation Statistics | College Enrollment Statistics | K-12 Enrollment Statistics| Financial Aid Statistics    

General Statistics

The high school dropout rate includes students between the age of 15 and 24 in grades 10-12 who left high school between the beginning of one school year and the beginning of the next without earning a diploma or alternate credential. Recipients of GED or other alternative credential don’t factor into the dropout rate.

  • In 2019, the average high school dropout rate was 5.1%.
  • 36% of students who have a disability (physical or learning) drop out of high school.
  • 73% of high school dropouts indicated their parents tried to talk them into staying.
  • 37% of high school dropouts indicated their school tried to talk them into staying.
  • 53% of dropouts said their parents offered to help them with personal problems.
  • 24% of dropouts indicated their school offered to help.
  • 75% of high school dropouts never participated in an alternative program or school.
  • The table below highlights the 2017 racial demographics of the high school dropout rate. 

Dropout Rates By Race on EducationData

Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR)

The United States began using Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR) for measuring high school graduation rates in 2010. This is the number of students who graduate within 4 years of starting the 9th grade with a regular high school diploma. The adjustment is made by subtracting any students who transfer away, leave the United States, or pass away, and adding any students who transfer into the cohort after 9th grade.

  • The ACGR for students with limited English proficiency was 66% in 2018.
  • 54% of students who drop out of high school left in 10th or 11th grade.
  • Recipients of GED or other alternative credential don’t factor into the ACGR.

Under-reported Dropout Numbers 

The U.S. Department of Education audits have found some states and school districts are manipulating their graduation rates in response to legislation mandating higher standards. This contributes to under-reported dropout numbers. Since No Child Left Behind became law, states increasingly utilized alternative programs and “credit recovery” courses to bolster graduation rates.

  • 8% of schools have high school students enrolled that take 39% of credit recovery courses in the United States.
  • 68% of credit recovery courses have no seat-time requirement.
  • 59% of these courses are graded by computer.
  • In 2016, through the use of credit recovery programs, the city of Los Angeles saw its projected graduation rate increase from 54% to 75% in one year.
  • Alabama began inflating its graduation percentages in 2012 by including alternative credentials awarded to special education students to inflate numbers, dropping underperforming students from cohorts, either on paper or by expelling “problem students.”
  • In 2018, in District of Columbia, low-performing schools reporting sudden changes in graduation reports underwent audits.
  • 34% of graduates from the District of Columbia Public Schools had irregularities that should have prevented them from graduating.
  • In 2017, 11.4% of graduates missed more than 50% of the school year and only 7.7% had satisfactory attendance.
  • After the audit, graduation requirements changed, and graduation rates dropped by 4.6% in 2018.

Alternative High Schools & High School Dropouts

Alternative high schools include charter schools and schools run by an accelerated learning system. Other alternative schools include specialized schools within a school, schools without walls, residential schools, special alternative learning centers, summer schools, and magnet schools. 

  • Over half of alternative schools have graduation rates lower than 50%.
  • 74% of districts with alternative schools/programs for at-risk students allow re-entry to public schools, 25% only allow some, and 1% allow none to re-enter.
  • Florida has been under investigation for utilizing alternative schools to meet graduation rate standards.
  • For instance, in 2016, 455 students in Orange County, Florida were sent to a for-profit “charter alternative” school run by ALS (Accelerated Learning Systems).
  • 85% of these students were Black or Hispanic.
  • Between 2012 and 2015, the school coded 1,230 “withdrawals” as students leaving for adult education, and similar ALS schools reported 5,260 more.
  • In 2015, Orange County Reported 211 high school dropouts.
  • The ALS schools reported 1,038 “adult education withdrawals”.
  • Between 2009 and 2014, Orange County’s alternative school enrollments tripled.
  • ALS ran 70% of the alternative schools that ranked the highest “withdrawals”.
  • The Orange County ALS school spent 22% of its expenditures on instruction and 32.5% paying its management company.
  • In 2017 nearly 500,000 students were enrolled in alternative schools across the United States.
  • 279,000 were enrolled in alternative schools classified as secondary/high schools.
  • 141,824 were enrolled in alternative schools that were classified as combined elementary/high schools.
  • 54.2% of alternative schools are considered low-income.
  • 20.3% of alternative school students were Black.
  • Hispanic students comprise over 36% of alternative school students.

Dropout Rate Statistics: Demographics

While dropout rates are sobering, the numbers are declining, particularly in populations that previously had disproportionate dropout rates. This section includes dropout rate statistics based on race, gender, and disability status.  

  • 13% of Black students dropped out in 1992
  • Just under 6% of Black students dropped out in 2017.
  • 30% of all Hispanic individuals in the 16-24-year-old group dropped out in 1992.
  • in 2016, only 8.6% of that group were dropouts in 2016.
  • 7% of White students dropped out in 1992.
  • Less than 5% of White students dropped out in 2017.
  • 5.4% of males between age 15 and 24 were dropouts in 2017.
  • 5.9% of females between age 15 and 24 were dropouts in 2017.
  • In high school, 22% of female students were chronically absent from school vs. 20.4% of male students.

ReasonsforDroppingOut 1 on EducationData

Dropout Rate of Disabled Students 

Students needing special education are diagnosed with one or more disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) passed in 1975. These disabilities may include hearing or vision impairment, learning disabilities, autism, orthopedic impairment, emotional disturbance or other conditions. The federal government has never funded the required amount of additional funding needed for states to educate students with disabilities. Most school districts struggle to make up the difference, especially in disadvantaged communities. 

  • 36% of high school students with disabilities dropped out of school in 2017
  • The Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR)  for students with disabilities was 67% in 2018.
  • 59% of prison inmates who dropped out of high school and are incarcerated have a speech disability.
  • 69% of prison inmates who dropped out of high school and are incarcerated have a learning disability.
Disability Types on EducationData

Dropout Rate Causes: Chronic Absenteeism

Absenteeism occurs at higher rates in high school than in other grades. Chronic absenteeism occurs when a student misses 15 days or 10% of school in a year. 

  • In 2016, 16% of the student population -over 7 million- missed 15 or more days of school.
  • 14% of English learners have chronic absentee issues.
  • 16% of non-English learners have chronic absentee issues.
  • Students with disabilities are 50% more likely to be chronically absent.
  • In 2016, 27.8% of high school students with disabilities were chronically absent.
  • In high school, nearly 20% of students are chronically absent.
  • In 2016, nearly 800 school districts had over 30% of their students miss more than 3 weeks of school.

Dropout Rate Causes: Poverty and Socioeconomic Status

The most consistent trend when examining high school dropout rates is socioeconomic status and location. Poverty and socioeconomic background directly correlates with high school dropout rates. Family poverty, community poverty, and school poverty contribute to the likelihood of a student dropping out.  

  • Among economically disadvantaged populations the ACGR (adjusted cohort graduation rate) rate in the US is 78%.
  • Students from families in lower socioeconomic status percentiles are 5 times more likely to drop out of high school.
  • Students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds or low-income families are 2.4 times more likely to drop out of high school than students in middle SES families.
  • Students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds or low-income families are 10 times more likely to drop out than higher SES students. 
ReasonsforDroppingOut 2 on EducationData
 

Dropout Rate Statistics: Employment & Prospects

Dropping out of high school often leads to poverty, health concerns, increased risk of incarceration or criminal activity and other poor outcomes. Students who drop out of high school earn less over their lifetimes.

  • 8% of young adults between age 16 and 19 were not working or enrolled in school in 2018, a fairly consistent number over the past 20 years.
  • The average salary in 2017 for adult dropouts ranges between $20,000 and $25,000.
  • High school graduates earned $38, 150 annually.
  • Graduates with a four-year degree earned $67,760 annually.
  • Students who dropped out of high school are more likely to make $30,000 less annually as a middle aged adult than their peers who graduated high school.
  • As shown in the chart below, high school graduates saw much higher unemployment rates during the Great Recession.
Labor Force Dropouts 1024x550 on EducationData

Dropout Rate Statistics: Economic Impact

High school dropouts suffer from lowered employment prospects and a much higher potential to be living below the poverty lines. However, the impact also affects the communities around them.

  • Over half of high school dropouts are on public assistance.
  • Young women who drop out of high school are 9 times more likely to become single mothers.
  • Nearly 83% of incarcerated persons are also high school dropouts.
  • The lifetime cost to taxpayers per student that drops out of high school exceeds $300,000.
  • 22% of persons incarcerated in the United States are black males who dropped out of high school.
  • Over 60% of individuals who dropped out of high school are rearrested for repeat criminal activity.
  • A 10% increase in high school graduation rates in at-risk communities could result in a 9% decline in criminal arrest rates.
  • Lower earnings from high school dropouts can mean as much as $2 billion in lost tax revenue each year.

Sources

  1. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES): Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in United States – 2019
  2. NCES: Fast Facts – Dropout rates 
  3. NCES: List of 2019 Digest Tables 
  4. NCES: Alternative Schools and Programs for Public School Students At Risk of Educational Failure – 2007 to 2008
  5. NCES: The Condition of Education 2019 At a Glance
  6. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics: America’s Children- Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2019
  7. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) News Release: College Enrollment and Work Activity of Recent High School and College Graduates – 2020
  8. Institute of Education Sciences (IES): Late High School Dropouts- Characteristics, Experiences, and Changes Across Cohorts  
  9. Brookings Institution Report: Is the high school graduation rate really going up? 
  10. ProPublica: ‘Alternative’ Education- Using Charter Schools to Hide Dropouts and Game the System
  11. 2015 Sunshine High School: Management Discussion and Analysis 
  12. The Hechinger Report: The graduation rates from every school district in one map 
  13. American Institutes for Research: News- Students Using “Online Credit Recovery” to Make Up Freshman Algebra Fare Less Well than Peers in Traditional Classroom, AIR Study Finds 
  14. National Dropout Prevention Center: Why Students Drop Out
  15. National Dropout Prevention Center: Alternative Schooling 
  16. Department of Education: Chronic Absenteeism In the Nation’s Schools 
  17. Understood: The 13 disability categories under IDEA