High school graduation rates in the US

This article about a possible US draft
has a single sentence which claims only 80% of the US between ages 18 and 24 has a high school degree.

Only 80%?!? Maybe I’m living in a ivory tower; but that number seems way too low to me. I would have guessed at least 90%. I’m assuming they must be faking that number since many high school seniors are 18 and don’t technically graduate till they’re 18 1/2, so the survey counts all those not-yet-graduated 18 year old seniors.

Is this true? Are there any other statistics on what percentage of over 18 year olds in the US have a high school degree?

Most large city public school districts have abysmal graduation rates. Detroit’s is 21.7%. NYC, the largest school district in the country, has a graduation rate of 38.9%. Even some of the wealthier, solidly middle class school districts have pretty low grad rates - Jefferson County, CO (western side of metro Denver) has a 77% grad rate, and Fairfax County, VA (Northern VA, D.C. metro) is 82.5%, which is the highest of the 50 largest school districts in the country.


According to the Census Bureau, in 2006, 84.6% of the population aged 18 and over were high school graduates. (table 1a., All Graduates)

However, if you break it down further, only 57.3% of 18-19 year olds were, but 86.8% of 20-24 year olds were.

If you don’t know people from a wide variety of places within the U.S., you will get a distorted perception of how it is in other places. My wife that grew up in an exclusive Boston suburb where almost everyone graduated (public) high school and not going to college was a reason to be looked down on. I grew up in an impoverished region of Louisiana that was roughly half black and half white. The black dropout rate was about 50% and the white dropout rate was about 25%. That isn’t all that unusual if you start looking at a map of the U.S. and all the areas where this happens from the rust belt, to poor Latino communities, to the rural south and everywhere in between.

However, that statistic in particular is not a perfect indicator that something has gone irreversibly wrong. My SIL has no high school diploma and yet was a chemical engineer and now a tenured clinical psychology professor. My younger brother is a police officer and is about to graduate with his bachelors degree from a large, well known state school in December. He had to drop out of high school for promise of expulsion (really terrible zero tolerance story).

High school doesn’t mean all that much in this country anymore and college is where it is at for almost everything. Someone that has the smarts to make it in college or a good technical school doesn’t actually need the high school diploma to pull that off although the diploma is traditional and can make things easier. Community colleges will take almost anyone and send people without diplomas to the front of the line in that state’s college system which may be quite good.

Ah, the wonder of the G.E.D.

Given the erosion of this last years Senior Class at my school, I’d say the figures are about right. We lost almost a third of them before graduation…highest dropout rate in over a decade. They are an aberration, it seems, since the classes before and after them are maintaining the usual percentages.

18 1/2? I may have been young in my class, but I graduated at age 17.

When I graduated from high school, I was only a little more than 3 months away from turning 19. My parents decided to keep me out of school for one more year since it was a choice between always being the youngest in the class or the oldest, as my late-August birthday was right on the borderline of the state’s minimum age.

Yeah, me too. The point is, not everybody is as motivated as you or I. It’s dismal here, too, something like 60% in NM.

Well, as a teacher I’m glad to hear that schools are still failing(…not graduating) some students.

Graduating high school means less and less as time goes by. The children all believe you can’t *not * graduate nowadays.

In fairness, the high school in my district(I teach middle school) has a huge wimp for a Principal. He protect their graduation rate by altering grades and being a huge wimp on discipline. The tradgedy is that my Middle School is phenomenal and we send the children off to that building with a false sense that they *must *work hard.

I think high school should not be something we automatically pass. 80% seems quite good, to me.

The short answer is that no one knows. The basic problem is the definition of graduation rate. The usual procedure in a school district, about the only procedure possible, is to count the number of first-year students who entered the school (usually 9th grade) and count the number of those students who graduate 4 yrs later. That is the number who graduate. Clearly it is only a hint of the graduation rate. Some students transfer, some just stop coming to that school and start somewhere else, some take more than 4 yrs, and notably some students appear. By the above definition, a student who showed up in 10th grade and graduated 3 years later would not count as a graduate. One thing to realize is that the US does not have a population tracking system, so there is no agency one can check with to find out what happened to any individual student. The data to accurately answer the OP simply doesn’t exist. So, before you start believing all the different rates you read about consider two things: 1) what is the definition, 2) what is the bias of the people reporting the number.

As for a guess for the OP- around 90% of the students who enter high school in the US eventually graduate from some high school or high school equivalent. But that is just my guess.