Graduation rates are a fundamental indicator of whether or not the nation's public school system is doing what it is intended to do: enroll, engage, and educate youth to be productive members of society.
Yet every year, approximately 1.3 million students—that's over 7,000 every school day—do not graduate from high school on time. Nationwide, only 69 percent of students earn their high school diplomas. Among minority students, only 56 percent of Hispanic, 54 percent of African American, and 51 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native students in the U.S. graduate with a regular diploma, compared to 77 percent of white students and 81 percent of Asian Americans.
While there is no single reason that students drop out, difficult transitions to high school, a deficiency in basic skills (such as the ability to read and write at grade level or near it) or a lack of engagement serve as prominent barriers to graduation. Over one third of all dropouts are lost in ninth grade. The six million secondary students who comprise the lowest 25 percent of achievement are twenty times more likely to drop out of high school than students in the top-performing quartile. "Early-warning systems" or "on-track" indicators have allowed researchers and educators to, increasingly, identify some potential dropouts and get them back on track to educational success.
Unfortunately, many students are not given the extra support they need to successfully make the transition to high school. While some students fall through the cracks in otherwise successful schools, more than half of the nation's dropouts are unlucky enough to attend one of the nation's 2,000 lowest-performing high schools. In these schools, less than 60 percent of freshmen make it to their senior year three years later. These schools are the chronically low-performing, under-resourced schools where the freshman class shrinks by 40 percent or more by the time the students reach their senior year.
High school dropouts face a lifetime of reduced earnings and a diminished quality of life. For example, a high school dropout's lifetime earnings are, on average, about $260,000 less than a high school graduate's. Local communities, states, and the American economy suffer from the dropout crisis as well - from lost wages, taxes, and productivity to higher costs for health care, welfare, and crime, as shown in the potential economic impacts nationally and by state.
Census projections show that the minority populations with the lowest graduation rates are poised to become half of the U.S. population by 2050. According to Demography as Destiny: How America Can Build a Better Future, an Alliance issue brief, if minority students continue to receive inferior educations and leave high school without diplomas and adequate preparation for the twenty-first-century economy, the nation's graduation rate and economic strength will both decrease further.