High School Dropout Rates

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High school dropout rates have been on the decline since 1967, but disparities persist across race/ethnicity and foreign-born status.


The proportion of high school dropouts among 16- to 24-year-olds has declined by more than half since 1967, from 17 to seven percent in 2012,[a] but wide disparities by race, Hispanic origin, and foreign-born status persist. (Appendix 1)

A range of factors have been shown to increase a student’s risk of dropping out, including high rates of absenteeism, low levels of school engagement, low parental education, work or family responsibilities, problematic or deviant behavior, moving to a new school in the ninth grade, and attending a school with lower achievement scores.[1],[2],[3],[4]

Dropping out from high school is associated with negative employment and life outcomes. Young people who drop out of high school are unlikely to have the minimum skills and credentials necessary to function in today's increasingly complex society and technology-dependent workplace. The completion of high school is usually required for accessing post-secondary education, and is a minimum requirement for most jobs.[5] A high school diploma is associated with higher incomes and occupational status,[6],[7], [8],[9] and young adults with low education and skill levels are more likely to live in poverty and to receive government assistance.[10],[11],[12] High school dropouts are also more likely to become involved in crime.[13],[14] Further, dropout status has been linked with poor health, including poor mental health.[15],[16] Such negative outcomes, along with diminished labor force participation, exact a high economic toll on society. If the dropouts from the nation's class of 2011 had graduated, the U.S. economy would benefit by about $154 billion dollars over their lifetimes.[17]

Many youth who drop out of high school do eventually earn a diploma or a GED,[18] though the benefit of a GED without a college education, especially for minorities, is disputed.[19] One study found that 63 percent of students who dropped out had earned a diploma or GED within eight years of the year they normally should have graduated.[20]


01_Fig1For this indicator, dropouts are defined as individuals, ages 16 to 24, who are not enrolled in school and have not completed high school or obtained a GED. Overall, this rate has declined, from 17 percent in 1967 to seven percent in 2012.  In 1972, the dropout rate was 21 percent among non-Hispanic blacks, 12 percent among non-Hispanic whites, and 34 percent among Hispanic youth. Dropout rates for Hispanic youth reached a peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s; rates have since declined substantially for each group.  The dropout rate for black youth reached an historic low of eight percent in 2011 (and was at nine percent in 2012), while rates among Hispanic youth also reached an historic low of 13 percent in 2012. (Figure 1) However, the long-term decline is at least in part related to increased incarceration rates among black and Hispanic males, especially dropouts, which more than doubled between 1980 and 1999, removing them from the population base (non-institutionalized civilians) for these estimates.[21],[22]

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin[23]

Black and Hispanic youth are more likely than whites or Asians to drop out of high school.  In 2012, four percent of whites ages 16 to 24 were not enrolled in school and had not completed high school, compared with nine percent of blacks and 13 percent of Hispanics. (Figure 1) The high rate for Hispanics is partly the result of the high proportion of immigrants in this age group who never attended school in the U.S.[24] Asian youth had the lowest rate percent of all the racial and ethnic groups tabulated here, at three percent. (Appendix 2)

Differences by Gender

01_Fig2In 2012, seven percent of males ages 16 to 24 were high school dropouts, compared with six percent of females.  Although males comprise roughly half of the population in this age group, they make up 56 percent of the dropouts. (Figure 2)

Although in recent years males are more likely to drop out, prior to 1980 female youth were more likely to drop out. (Appendix 1)


Differences by Immigrant Status

01_Fig3Foreign-born youth had a status dropout rate of 16 percent in 2012, compared with nine percent for children born in the U.S. to foreign-born parents, and four percent for children born to native-born parents.  While foreign-born youth make up ten percent of the total population in this age group, they make up 23 percent of the dropout population; children of foreign-born parents make up 36 percent of dropouts, but represent 26 percent of the overall population. (Figure 3)

State and Local Estimates

State estimates from 2000 through 2011 (including ages 16-19 only) are available at the KIDS COUNT Data Center.

State estimates of high school freshmen graduation rates by locale (using different data and methodology from those cited here) for the class of 2009-10 are also available from the National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data.

International Estimates

International estimates (2010 data) of upper-secondary graduation rates for most countries are available from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (See Indicator A2)

National Goals

Healthy People 2020, a federal government initiative to improve the health of Americans, has among its goals one to increase the averaged (high school) freshman graduation rate from 74.9 percent in 2007-08 to 82.4 percent in 2020.

More information is available here. (goal AH-5.1)

What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator

Several recent reviews summarize the knowledge-base on effective, evidence-based practices to prevent or reduce the risk of students dropping out of school.

Related Indicators


This indicator uses the "status" dropout rate,[25] which measures the percentage of young adults aged 16 through 24 in the civilian, non-institutionalized population who were not enrolled in a high school program and had not received a high school diploma or obtained an equivalency certificate.[26] Note that this measure does not include youth in prison or in the military.

While this indicator uses the status dropout rate, other indicators (such as on-time high school completion or high school graduation rates) are also used to measure high school outcomes. For more information, see: the National Institute of Statistical Sciences/Education Statistics Services Institute Task Force on Graduation, Completion, and Dropout Indicators' Final Report.

Data Source

Child Trends' calculations based on: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey data on school enrollment. Available at: http://www.census.gov/hhes/school/data/cps/index.html

Raw Data Source

U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, October Current Population Survey http://www.census.gov/cps/


Appendix 1 - Dropout Rates1 of 16- to 24-Year-Olds, by Gender and Race/ Hispanic Origin: Selected Years, 1970-2012

1970 1972 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Total 15.0 14.6 13.9 14.1 12.6 12.1 12.0 10.9 10.7 10.5 9.9 10.3 9.4 9.3 8.7 8.0 8.1 7.4 7.1 6.6
Male 14.2 14.1 13.3 15.1 13.4 12.3 12.2 12.0 12.9 11.8 11.3 11.6 10.8 10.3 9.8 8.5 9.1 8.5 7.7 7.3
Female 15.7 15.1 14.5 13.1 11.8 11.8 11.7 9.9 9.5 9.2 8.4 9.0 8.0 8.3 7.6 7.5 7.0 6.3 6.5 5.9
Race/Hispanic Origin2
White, non-Hispanic - 12.3 11.4 11.4 10.4 9.0 8.6 6.9 7.3 6.5 6.3 6.8 6.0 5.8 5.3 4.8 5.2 5.1 5.0 4.3
Black - - - - - - - - - 11.3 10.9 11.8 10.4 10.7 8.7 10.2 9.6 8.3 7.6 8.6
Black, non-Hispanic - 21.3 22.9 19.1 15.2 13.2 12.1 13.1 10.9 - - - - - - - - - - -
Hispanic3 - 34.3 29.2 35.2 27.6 32.4 30.0 27.8 27.0 25.7 23.5 23.8 22.4 22.1 21.4 18.3 17.6 15.1 13.6 12.7
Asian - - - - - - - - - - 4.3 3.5 2.8 4.2 6.9 3.9 2.1 4.6 4.5 3.0
Foreign-born 28.9 29.1 27.6 25.8 25.9 24.4 25.4 26.5 21.6 20.7 18.2 17.9 15.5
Native-born 8.7 8.8 8.1 7.8 8.4 7.5 7.4 6.5 6.5 6.7 6.3 6.0 5.7
1 This indicator uses the status dropout rate, which measures the percentage of young adults aged 16 to 24 who were not enrolled in school and had not received a high school diploma or obtained an equivalency certificate.  Persons who are incarcerated or in the military are not included in this estimate.2Due to relatively small sample sizes, American Indians/Alaskan Natives are included in the total but not shown separately. Due to changes in the race categories, estimates from 2003 and later are not strictly comparable to estimates from 2002 and before.3Hispanics may be of any race.

Note: Data from the years 1987 through 2001 reflect new editing procedures instituted by the Bureau of the Census for cases with missing data on school enrollment items. Data from the years 1992 through 2012 reflect new wording of the educational attainment item in the CPS. Data for years 1994 through 2000 reflect changes in the CPS due to newly instituted computer-assisted interviewing and the change in the population controls used in the 1990 Census-based estimates.

Sources: Child Trends' calculations of U.S. Census Bureau, School Enrollment-Social and Economic Characteristics of Students: Detailed Tables. http://www.census.gov/hhes/school/data/cps/index.html


Appendix 2: Dropout Rates,1 and Number and Percentage Distribution of Dropouts Ages 16 to 24, by Selected Characteristics: October 2012

Dropout rate (percent) Number of Dropouts (thousands) Percent of all dropouts Percent of population
Total 6.6 2,563 100.0 100.0
Male 7.3 1,427 55.7 50.4
Female 5.9 1,134 44.2 49.6
16-17 2.9 243 9.5 21.7
18-19 7.1 605 23.6 21.9
20-21 6.6 584 22.8 22.9
22-24 8.7 1,131 44.1 33.6
Race/Hispanic Origin2
White, non-Hispanic 4.3 931 36.3 55.9
Black 8.6 516 20.1 15.4
Hispanic 12.7 1,039 40.5 21.1
Asian 3.0 59 2.3 5.1
Immigration status
Foreign-Born 15.5 581 22.7 9.6
Children of Foreign-Born Parents 9.3 927 36.2 25.6
Children of Native-Born Parents 4.2 1,055 41.2 64.7
Note: Percentages may not add up to 100.0 due to rounding. Details may not add to totals due to rounding.1This indicator uses the status dropout rate, which measures the percentage of young adults aged 16 to 24 who were not enrolled in a high school program and had not received a high school diploma or obtained an equivalency certificate.2Due to relatively small sample sizes, American Indians/Alaskan Natives are included in the total but not shown separately. Hispanics may be of any race.

Source: Child Trends' calculations of U.S. Census Bureau, School Enrollment--Social and Economic Characteristics of Students: October 2012: Detailed Tables: Table 1. http://www.census.gov/hhes/school/data/cps/index.html



[a]Note that this measure--sometimes referred to as the "status" dropout rate--represents only one of several ways for calculating high school dropout. The "event" dropout rate reports the percentage of young people ages 15 through 24 who dropped out of grades 10 through 12 in the past year. The "cohort" dropout rate measures the percentage of an entering ninth-grade class that drops out before the end of the twelfth-grade year. The "status" dropout rate is the only measure for which there are reliable national data. National data on graduation rates (a rough inverse of a "cohort" dropout rate) show that 76 percent of the high school class of 2008-09 graduated four years after entering ninth grade (see Endnote 25).

[1]Suh, S. & Suh, J. (2007). Risk factors and levels of risk for high school dropouts. Professional School Counseling, 10 (3), 297-306.

[2]Christle, C. A., Jolivette, K., Nelson, C. M. (2007). School characteristics related to high school dropout rates. Remedial & Special Education. Nov/Dec2007, 28(6), 325-339.

[3]Rumberger, R. W. (2004). Why students drop out of school. In Gary Orfield (Ed.). Dropouts in America: Confronting the graduation rate crisis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

[4]Balfanz, R. and Legters, N. (2004). Locating the dropout crisis: Which schools produce the nation's dropouts? In Gary Orfield (Ed.). Dropouts in America: Confronting the graduation rate crisis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

[5]Laird, L., Lew, S., Debell, M., and Chapman, C. D. (2006). Dropout rates in the United States: 2002, 2003. (NCES 2006-062). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Available at:http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2006/2006062.pdf

[6]Chen, Z., Kaplan, H. (2003). School failure in early adolescence and status attainment in middle adulthood: A longitudinal study. Sociology of Education, 76 (2), 110-127.

[7]Miller, P., Mulvey, C. and Martin, N. (1995). What do twins studies reveal about the economic returns to education? A comparison of Australian and U.S. findings. The American Economic Review, 85(3), 586-599.

[8]Dubow, E. F., Huesmann, L. R., Boxer, P., Pulkkinen, L., Kokko, K. (2006). Developmental Psychology, 42(5), 937-949. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.42.5.937

[9]Fogg, N. P., Harrington, P. E., & Khatiwada, I. (2009). The tax and transfer fiscal impacts of dropping out of high school in Philadelphia City and suburbs. Boston, MA: Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University.

[10]Laird, J., Kienzl, G., DeBell, M., and Chapman, C. (2007). Dropout rates in the United States: 2005. (NCES 2007-059). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics.

[11]Martin, E., Tobin, T. J., & Sugai, G. M. (2002). Current information on dropout prevention: Ideas from practitioners and the literature. Preventing School Failure, 47(1), 10-18.

[12]Moore, K., Glei, D., Driscoll, A., Zaslow, M., and Redd, Z. (2002). Poverty and welfare patterns: Implications for children. Journal of Social Policy, 30(2), 207-227. Available at:http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=102533

[13]Lochner, L., and Moretti, E. (2004). The effect of education on crime: Evidence from prison inmates, arrests, and self reports. The American Economic Review, 94(1), 155-189.

[14]Freeman, R. (1996). Why do so many young American men commit crimes and what might we do about it? Journal of Economic Perspectives, 10(1), 25-42.

[15]Alliance for Excellent Education. (2006). Healthier and wealthier: Decreasing health care costs by increasing educational attainment. Washington, DC: Author. Available at:http://www.all4ed.org/files/HandW.pdf

[16]Liem, J. H., Dillon, C. O. N., & Gore, S. (2001). Mental health consequences associated with dropping out of high school. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the American Psychological Association, San Francisco, CA. August 24-28, 2001.

[17]Alliance for Excellent Education. (2011). The high cost of high school dropouts: What the nation pays for inadequate high schools. Issue Brief. Available at:http://www.all4ed.org/files/HighCost.pdf

[18]Murnane, R., Willett, J., and Tyler, J. (2000). Who benefits from obtaining a GED? Evidence from high school and beyond. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 82(1), 22-37.

[19]Tyler, J. H., Lofstrom, M. (2009). Finishing high school: Alternative pathways and dropout recovery. The Future of Children, 19(1), 77-103.

[20]U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2004). Issue Brief: Educational Attainment of High School Drop Outs Eight Years Later, (NCES 2005-026). Available at:http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2005/2005026.pdf.

[21]Western, B. and Pettit, B. (2002). Beyond crime and punishment: Prisons and inequality. Contexts, 1(3), 37-43.

[22]Heckman, J. J., LaFontaine, P. A. (2010). The American high school graduation rate: Trends and levels. Review of Economics and Statistics, 92(2), 244-262. doi: 10.1162/rest.2010.12366.

[23]Hispanics may be of any race. Totals of whites do not include Hispanics.

[24]Fry, R. (2003). Hispanic youth dropping out of U.S. schools: Measuring the challenge. Pew Hispanic Center. Available at: http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=19.

[25]Status dropout rate differs from event dropout rate, which is measured as the percentage of young people aged 15 through 24 who dropped out of grades 10 through 12 in the past year.

[26]Chapman, C., Laird, J., Ifill, N., and KewalRamani, A. (2011). Trends in high school dropout and completion rates in the United States: 1972-2009, (NCES 2012-006). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Available at:http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/2012006.pdf.


Suggested Citation:

Child Trends. (2013). High school dropout rates. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=high-school-dropout-rates


Last updated: September 2013