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Who Are Today's School Dropouts?

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 1995!

"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 youths, youths retained at least once during their school years, and youths with disabilities.


Among the highlights gleaned from the data:*

  • 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.
  • 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 age.
* 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. 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 percent).

  • 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 of 1992.

  • 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 Hispanics).


  • 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 (9.9 percent).

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.

REGION STATE 1990-92 %* 1993-95%*
TOTAL   85.5 85.3
NORTHEAST Connecticut 89.9 94.7
Maine 91.9 92.9
Massachusetts 89.8 92.5
New Hampshire 87.9 86.9
New Jersey 90.8 91.8
New York 88.0 87.1
Pennsylvania 90.2 89.5
Rhode Island 87.9 89.4
Vermont 87.0 88.1
MIDWEST Illinois 86.0 86.7
Indiana 87.8 88.5
Iowa 94.6 93.2
Kansas 93.2 90.9
Michigan 87.2 88.7
Minnesota 92.5 93.3
Missouri 88.1 90.3
Nebraska 92.5 94.5
North Dakota 96.3 96.6
Ohio 90.0 88.4
South Dakota 89.1 91.5
Wisconsin 92.4 93.7
SOUTH Alabama 85.2 84.0
Arkansas 87.5 88.4
Delaware 86.2 93.3
Florida 84.1 80.7
Georgia 85.1 80.3
Kentucky 81.1 82.4
Louisiana 83.9 80.5
Maryland 88.6 93.6
Mississippi 85.4 83.9
North Carolina 83.0 85.5
Oklahoma 84.3 87.0
South Carolina 85.0 88.0
Tennessee 76.7 84.6
Texas 80.0 79.5
Virginia 88.6 87.7
Washington, D.C 84.0 87.7
West Virginia 83.3 86.8
WEST Alaska 85.6 90.5
Arizona 81.7 84.0
California 77.3 78.9
Colorado 88.1 88.4
Hawaii 93.5 92.0
Idaho 84.7 86.4
Montana 91.6 89.8
Nevada 82.1 81.9
New Mexico 84.1 82.4
Oregon 89.6 82.7
Utah 93.9 93.6
Washington 90.7 85.7
Wyoming 92.0 90.8

* 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:	[email protected] or [email protected]

National Education Data Resource Center (NEDRC) Phone number:(703)845-3151 E-mail: [email protected] or [email protected] Mail: National Center for Education Statistics attn: NEDRC Publication Request 555 New Jersey Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20208-565

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
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