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Graduation Rates & Credit Recovery: By the Numbers

Wednesday, November 25, 2015 -- Shane Dennison

Graduation rates are one measure of our education system’s success that we most frequently hear about. All too often, what’s being said is not positive. Many high school seniors are not graduating on time or not graduating at all, which is especially true within communities with high poverty rates and among students of color. Over the past 10 years, the statistics have been improving, but we still have a long way to go to boost the national graduation rate. So, what do the numbers actually look like? Why does this issue need to remain a top priority? And how are credit recovery programs playing a role in the push to improve graduation rates? Here, we’ve compiled some of the latest research.  

Graduation Rates: Where We Stand

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in the 2012–2013 school year, the national Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR), a method for calculating how many students graduate within four years of entering high school as first-time 9th graders, hit an all-time high of 81.4%.

The Building A Grad Nation April 2014 Annual Update provides the following statistics:

  • National graduation rates hit their modern low in 2001, at only 71.7%. The nearly 10% gain that has been made since then has been driven by significant improvements in Hispanic and African American students’ graduation rates. Between 2006 and 2012, these two groups made gains of 15% and 9% respectively.
  • “Dropout Factories,” defined in the Grad Nation report as “schools in which the reported 12th grade enrollment is 60% or less than the 9th grade enrollment three years earlier,” have declined from 2,007 schools with approximately 2,644,000 enrolled students in 2002 to only 1,359 schools with 1,409,000 students in 2012.
  • Nationwide, graduation rates for low-income students were at 72% in the 2012 school year as compared to 87% for high-income students. Across the 50 states and the District of Columbia, low-income graduation rates ranged from 58% to 85%. High-income students’ graduation rates ranged from 70% to 96%.
  • In 39 of our nation’s large cities with high concentrations of low-income students, graduation rates lag behind the national average, ranging from only 50% to 79%. More than half of the “dropout factory” schools are located in urban districts like these.
  • Students eligible for special education services make up about 13% of all American students. However, across the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the rate of students identified as in need of special education services ranges from 9% to 19%, and graduation rates for identified students range from a low of only 24% in Nevada all the way up to 81% in Montana. 

The Impact of High School Graduation

According to the NCES report on Annual Earnings of Young Adults, only 53% of 25- to 34-year-olds without a high school diploma were employed full-time in 2013, as compared to 62% of high school graduates. Among those employed individuals, median annual earnings for high-school dropouts were only $23,900 versus $30,000 for high-school diploma holders.

The NCES Youth Indicators 2011 report indicates that for high school dropouts between the ages of 18 and 24, as of 2009, 30.8% were living in poverty. This rate declined to 23.7% among individuals with a high school diploma.

A study from Northeastern University found that as of 2008, among 16- to 24-year-olds who dropped out of high school, the incarceration rate stood at 6.3%. For 16- to 24-year-olds with high school diplomas, the rate was only 1.0%.

The Gates Foundation report The Silent Epidemic even shows a correlation between high school graduation, postsecondary education, and physical health in later life. For Americans over 45 years old, high school dropouts were only half as likely as college graduates to report being in excellent or very good health.

Getting Back on Track: The Expansion of Credit Recovery

The NCES Dropout Prevention Services and Programs in Public School Districts report from 2010–2011 found that 88% of school districts nationwide offered some type of credit recovery option for students at risk of dropping out.

According to According to iNACOL’s report Using Online Learning for Credit Recovery, over 75% of school districts use blended and online learning for expanded course offerings and credit recovery. The report indicates that 55% of school districts offer distance learning options, usually in an online format. During the 2009–2010 school year, over 60% of distance classes were taken by students for the purpose of credit recovery.

Interested in exploring online and blended learning options to enhance credit recovery programs in your school or district? Jobs for the Future recently collaborated with the U.S. Department of Education to develop an in-depth Blended Credit Recovery guide and evaluation tool. Want to find out more about how Edmentum’s online solutions can support flexible learning and credit recovery to improve graduation rates? Check out our engaging online courses from Plato Courseware!