High School Dropout Rate

Last Updated: July 10, 2021 by Melanie Hanson

General Statistics

  • In 2017, the average high school “event” dropout rate was 4.7%, contrasting with 3.5% in 2007
    • This 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 2017, the average high school “status” dropout rate was 5.4% in 2017.
    • This rate includes students between the age of 16 and 24 not enrolled in school and do nothave a diploma or alternative credential
    • 5.1% of noninstitutionalized population
    • 32.4% of institutionalized population (individuals who live in correctional facilities, nursing or other healthcare facilities)
    • 5% of this group was born in the United States and 8.9% were not
  • 36% of students who have a disability (physical or learning) drop out of high school
  • 54% of students who drop out of high school left in 10th or 11th grade
  • The ACGR for students with limited English proficiency was 66% in 2018
  • 73% of high school dropouts indicated their parents tried to talk them into staying compared to 37% indicating their school tried to talk them into staying
  • 53% of dropouts said their parents offered to help them with personal problems vs. 24% indicating their school offered to help
  • 75% of high school dropouts never participated in an alternative program or school


The United States began using ACGR (Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate) 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.

Throughout this report, when we refer to “high school dropouts,” we don’t include individuals who obtained their GEDs or alternative high school credentials unless noted specifically in the text.

For this report, we are utilizing ACGR rates, not AFGR rates.

High School Graduation Rate Statistics

  • In 2019, the national graduation rate was 84.6%
  • Some states do better than others, and while the national graduation rates have increased in recent years, the number of schools with lower graduation rates are increasing.
  • The graduation rate has increased since World War II (1945), when graduation/completion rates were closer to 50%
  • In 2018, 93% of adults between the age of 18 and 24 and 89.8% of adults over the age of 25 had completed a diploma, GED or another equivalency credential
    • In 1980, only 84% of adults between the age of 18 and 24 had graduated
  • About 3.6 million public school students projected to graduate in the 2019-2020 school year with high school diplomas (does not include equivalency credential)
    • 3.3 million will graduate from public schools
    • 347,000 will graduate from private schools

State-Reported Graduation Rates Don’t Tell The Whole Story

  • In 2016, 2,435 high schools met the criteria of a low-graduation-rate school, an increase from 2,249 in 2015
  • 13% of all high schools enrolling 7% of students in the US are low-graduation-rate schools

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 underreported dropout numbers.

Since No Child Left Behind became law, states are increasingly utilizing 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 them 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

  • Florida has been under investigation for utilizing alternative schools to meet graduation rate standards. For instance, in 2016, 455 students in Orange County were sent to a for-profit “charter alternative” school run by ALS (Accelerated Learning Systems).
    • 85% of 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 1038 “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
    • Even though they only make up 15.5% of the total student population, 20.3% of alternative school students were black. Hispanic students encompass only 24.8% of the total student population but comprise over 36% of alternative school students.
  • 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

Dropout Rate Statistics: Demographics

By Race:

While dropout rates are sobering, the numbers are declining, particularly in populations that previously had disproportionate dropout rates.

  • 13% of black students dropped out in 1992 compared to just under 6% in 2017
  • 30% of all Hispanic individuals in the 16-24-year-old group dropped out in 1992, and in 2016, only 8.6% were dropouts in 2016
  • 7% of white students dropped out in 1992, compared to less than 5% in 2017
  • Between 1980 and 2017, high school graduation rates increased:
    • 75% to 94% among black, non-Hispanic young adults
    • 87% to 95% among white, non-Hispanic young adults
    • 57% to 88% among Hispanic young adults
  • In 2017, high school graduation rates were higher for Asian students, at 99%
Dropout Rates By Race on EducationData

By Gender:

  • 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

By Disability Status:

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.

  • 36% of high school students with disabilities dropped out of school in 2017
  • The ACGR (adjusted cohort graduation rate) for students with disabilities was 67% in 2018
  • Among students enrolled in special education in 2015 in the US:
    • 76% of white students graduated with a traditional diploma
    • 57% of students of color graduated with a certificate instead of a traditional diploma
  • 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
  • 59% of prison inmates who dropped out of high school and incarcerated have a speech disability
  • 69% of prison inmates who dropped out of high school and incarcerated have a learning disability
Disability Types on EducationData

By State:

It’s important to remember that some districts may have graduation rates even lower than the state average graduation rates. In addition, at least two of the states on the chart below have been exposed for reporting false graduation numbers.

Highest Lowest Dropouts By State 1024x644 on EducationData

Dropout Rate Statistics: Causes

Chronic Absenteeism

  • Absenteeism occurs at higher rates in high school than other grades:
  • 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 vs. 16% of non-English learners
  • Students with disabilities are 50% more likely to be chronically absent
    • In 2016, 27.8% of high school students with disabilities were chronically absent vs. 20.1% of students without disabilities
  • 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

Poverty and Socioeconomic Status

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, and 10 times more likely to drop out than higher SES students. Poverty and socioeconomic background directly correlates with high school dropout rates:

  • 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. As shown below, poverty can have extremely negative effects on students:
    • Higher risk of hunger/food insecurity
    • Absentee or incarcerated parents
    • More likely to be exposed to adverse peer influence, drug and alcohol abuse
    • Higher risk of domestic abuse
    • Greater mobility rates and risk of homelessness
  • In 2017, there were 1.3 million homeless students in the US:
    • The number of students in high school who were homelessness was nearly 360,000
    • 1.02 million students were in shared or doubled-up housing
    • 90,013 were in hotels or motels
    • 186,141 were in shelters, transitional housing or awaiting foster care placement
    • 49,864 were unsheltered
    • 118,362 students were considered unaccompanied homeless youth
    • 245,130 were students with disabilities served under the Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
ReasonsforDroppingOut 2 on EducationData
ReasonsforDroppingOut 1 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.

  • 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
  • Students who drop out of high school earn less over their lifetimes:
    • The average salary in 2017 for adult dropouts ranges between $20,000 and $25,000 compared to $38, 150 for high school graduates and $67,760 for graduates with a four-year degree
  • Students who dropped out of high school are more likely to make $30,000 less per year in middle adult than to students from the same socioeconomic status that graduated

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
    • Between 1979 and 2013 local and state spending on prisons increased three times the rate of funding for K-12 public schools
    • In 2018 in California, the state spent nearly $65,000 each year per prisoner compared to $11,495 per student in public schools. Since 1980, the state has de
    • Within the past 30 years, the average rate of increase for correctional spending in most states in the US was more than 100 percentage points higher than the rate of increase in education spending
    • 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

In Summary…

The most consistent trend when examining high school dropout rates is socioeconomic status and location. At-risk students are much more likely to drop out of high school or alternative schools in alarming numbers.

High school should give a young person the skills they need to begin life as they enter adulthood. As a result, when these students drop out, they don’t have the credentials needed for most entry-level jobs. They can’t continue their education. Returning to school to complete an alternative credential such as a GED or other certificate is intimidating and costly, both in time and money.

Schools in disadvantaged communities tend to have more at-risk students who need the most support. Yet they rarely see the level of funding that other school districts and regions do. As a result, they have less money to spend on students, technology, and instructors.

In conclusion, dropping out of high school not only makes it difficult for a young person to achieve their educational and career goals, it has a far-reaching effect on society.


  1. Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 2019
  2. America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2019
  3. College Enrollment And Work Activity Of Recent High School And College Graduates – 2018
  4. Late High School Dropouts: Characteristics, Experiences, and Changes Across Cohorts
  5. Is the high school graduation rate really going up?
  6. ‘Alternative’ Education: Using Charter Schools to Hide Dropouts and Game the System
  7. Sunshine High School: Management Discussion
  8. The graduation rates from every school district in one map
  9. Digest of Education Statistics:  List of 2019 Tables
  10. Students Using “Online Credit Recovery” to Make Up Freshman Algebra Fare Less Well than Peers in Traditional Classroom, AIR Study Finds
  11. Alternative Schools and Programs for Public School Students at Risk of Educational Failure: 2007-08
  12. The Condition of Education 2019 At a Glance
  13. National Dropout Prevention Center
  14. Chronic Absenteeism In The Nation’s Schools
  15. IDEA Disability Categories