Chapter 1
I. Demonstrating the high school graduation challenge in the nation and your state

Whether you’re galvanizing people to begin fighting the dropout crisis or re-invigorating previous efforts, your community will need to evaluate its current situation. A good first step is to understand for yourself and then share with others the national high school graduation data. This will let community members know that the dropout crisis affects our entire nation and that they do not face this challenge alone. Nationally, unless we act:

  • Close to 900,000 — more than 1 in 5 — of the students who start high school each fall will not graduate.
  • Over the next four years, more than 3.5 million young adults will not earn high school diplomas in an era when there is little work for high school dropouts.
  • A third of African American and 30 percent of Latino students will not graduate.
  • Special education students, children in care,  and English language learners will continue to have the highest dropout rates.

The good news is that after 30 years of stagnation and decline, the U.S. high school graduation rate is finally beginning to improve. It increased five percentage points over the most recent four years for which data are available. This shows that progress is possible.

The bad news is the rest of the world has been improving faster. Among developed countries, the U.S. ranks 22nd in high school graduation rates and 14th in college attainment (the percentage of 25-34-year-olds with higher education).1

And progress has been uneven. Only about half the states have seen significant improvements. But all states will need to continue to improve, often at accelerating rates, to reach a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020 and close their graduation gaps among specific populations. To understand the challenges your state faces, see the in the 2013 Building a Grad Nation report, especially the “On Pace to 90%” map and “Graduation Gap” tables.


  1. Education at a Glance Highlights, 

Deeper Look

For good sources of data and information on the dropout/graduation issue, see:

  • The Building a Grad Nation Campaign reports are a series written by the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, Civic Enterprises and America’s Promise Alliance. Starting in 2010, they have provided annual updates on changes in graduation rates, dropout factory numbers, students in low-performing schools by state and region, and extensive, useful appendices. These reports also detail the Civic Marshall Plan, the engine of the Grad Nation campaign.
  • The Alliance for Excellent Education provides information about the economic benefits of raising graduation rates:
  • Diplomas Count series from Education Week:
  • Russell Rumberger, Dropping Out: Why Students Drop Out of High School and What Can Be Done About It (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), 2011.

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