A new report looks in-depth at the U.S. dropout rate as it applies
to students from various racial-ethnic groups and from different income
levels and geographic regions.
According to a new report, 5.7 percent of students dropped out of school
in the school year ending October 1995. The report, Dropout
Rates in the United States: 1995, which was released in July by
the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), says the number of
dropouts hasn't changed significantly in the last ten years.
While year-to-year numbers might not be staggering, the cumulative effect
of those numbers can be. In October 1995, the report states, nearly 3.9
million young adults ages 16 to 24 were not enrolled in a high school
program and had not completed high school. That number represented 12
percent of the 32.4 million 16- to 24-year-olds in the United States in
"Concern over the dropout rate stems from an increased understanding
of the importance of having an educated workforce," the report says. "Technological
advances have increased the demand for skilled labor to the point where
a high school education serves more as a minimum requirement for entry
into the labor force. This increased emphasis on educational requirements
makes the completion of a high school program more essential than ever."
And, the report adds, the dropout rate can impact people and statistics
in many other ways:
- School dropouts are more likely to be unemployed or to earn less money
than high school graduates do.
- Young women who drop out of high school are more likely to become
pregnant at earlier ages and are more likely to be single parents.
- Dropouts are more likely to receive public assistance than graduates
of high school.
- Dropouts comprise a disproportionate percentage of the nation's prison
and death row inmates.
The new report examines data for the school year ending October 1995
and historic data dating back to 1972. This eighth annual report of dropout
statistics goes into more detail than previous reports. Added to this
year's report are special sections that look in-depth at the dropout rate
as it applies to three specific sub-populations: foreign-born
retained at least once during their school years, and youths
Among the highlights gleaned from the data:*
* Data based on the number of youth ages
15-24 years enrolled in school in the 12 months preceding October, 1995
- One-half million of the 9.5 million students (5.7 percent) enrolled
in school left school without completing a high school program.
- Hispanic students are more likely to leave school than black or white
- Students of low-income families were six times more likely to leave
school than students of high-income families.
- A multitude of additional factors -- including the ability to communicate
in English and geographic region of residence -- have a correlation
to dropout rates too.
- Nearly 40 percent of the 1995 dropouts were students 15-17 years of
- One-half million of the 9.5 million students (5.7 percent) enrolled
in school left school without completing a high school program. Since
1972, the dropout rate has ranged from 4 percent to 6.7 percent. From
1972 to 1986, the rate dropped; since that time it hasn't decreased
or increased significantly.
- Males were more likely than females to drop out (55 percent to 45
- Students who remain in school after the majority of others their age
have left are more likely to drop out; 30 percent of students ages 20
and older dropped out. But youth ages 15 to 18 account for two-thirds
of the total number of dropouts; and nearly 40 percent of dropouts were
ages 15 to 17.
- The dropout rate among students of similar ages has decreased in the
last decade. Among those students who completed their sophomore years
in 1980, 9.9 percent ended up dropping out by August of 1982. Among
the 1990 sophomore class, 5.6 percent were counted as dropouts by August
- In 1995, more than 1.7 million young adults ages 18 to 24 earned high
school credentials by passing an equivalency exam such as the General
Educational Development (GED) test. That number represents 7.4 percent
of young adults who were not still enrolled in high school in 1995.
- Hispanic students are at greater risk of dropping out than white students
are (12.4 percent to 4.5 percent). Blacks are slightly more likely than
whites (6.4 percent to 4.5 percent) to drop out.
- Among youths ages 16 to 24, 8.6 percent of white youths were high
school dropouts; 12.1 percent of black youths were dropouts; and nearly
one-third of all Hispanic youths were dropouts.
- The gap between the dropout rates for black and white youths is closing.
The 3.5-point gap is down significantly from that measured twenty years
ago, when the difference was 10 to 11 percentage points.
- During the 1970s, between 86 and 87 percent of white young adults
had a high school education; by 1995 that number had increased to 89.8
percent. The rate among black young adults has risen from between 70
and 74 percent in the 1970s to 84.5 percent in 1995. Among Hispanics
the number has risen only slightly -- from between 56 and 62 percent
in the 1970s to 62.8 percent in 1995.
- Hispanic dropouts don't get as far in school. More than half of the
Hispanic dropouts didn't complete tenth grade compared with 31.1 percent
of white dropouts and 26.6 percent of black dropouts.
- Among Hispanic dropouts, limitations related to language are a major
factor for the high rate. The dropout rate is high for Hispanics born
outside the United States (43 percent, as measured in 1989); for Hispanics
who speak Spanish at home (32 percent versus 14 percent for those who
speak English at home, according to a 1992 measure); and for Hispanics
who report speaking English "not well" or "not at all" (62 percent and
83 percent respectively).
- Among different race-ethnic groups, the numbers who complete high
school through an alternative means (ie., a GED test) are fairly even
(6.9 percent for whites, 8.5 percent for blacks, and 8.6 percent for
- Together, low-and middle income families comprise 90 percent of the
dropout population. (Low-income families, those whose incomes fall in
the bottom 20 percent of U.S. household income, account for 34 percent
of the dropouts; middle-income families, those whose incomes fall in
the middle 60 percent, account for 56 percent of dropouts.)
- White and black youths from families in the highest 20 percent of
incomes have a similar (about 3 percent) risk of dropping out; white
and black youths from families in the lowest 20 percent of incomes have
increased, but still similar, dropout rates (about 19 percent for whites
and 20 percent for blacks).
- Ninety-seven percent of young adults from families with high incomes
completed high school; more than 90 percent of them earned a regular
diploma and 4 percent followed an equivalency test alternative. Just
over three-quarters of middle-income youth earned a regular diploma
and 8 percent earned an equivalency. Nearly two-thirds of low-income
students earned a regular diploma and 8 percent passed equivalency exams.
Data from different regions of the country is impacted by the makeup
of the population and the size of the region, of course, but the South
has the highest dropout rate (43.9 percent of all U.S. dropouts), followed
by the West (28.1 percent), the Midwest (18.2 percent) and the Northeast
This chart compares high-school completion rates of 18- to 24-year-olds
not currently enrolled in high school or below by state; it compares 1990-92
data to 1993-95 data.
* Numbers on this table reflect 3-year averages
SOURCE: Dropout Rates in the United States: 1995
For a copy of the printed report Dropout Rates in the United States:
1995, while supplies last, call or write to one of the sources below.
Be sure to have ready or to include the complete title (Dropout Rates
in the United States: 1995) and the NCES number (NCES 97-473).
National Library of Education (NLE)
Toll-free phone number: (800)424-1616
E-mail: LIBRARY-NLE@ed.gov or email@example.com
National Education Data Resource Center (NEDRC)
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Mail: National Center for Education Statistics
attn: NEDRC Publication Request
555 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20208-565
Article by Gary Hopkins
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