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E.D. Study: Dropout Rates for 5 States Over National Averages

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WASHINGTON--The first state-by-state report on dropout rates shows that the percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds who had not completed high school and were not enrolled in school far exceeded national averages in five states.

The report, released here last week by the Education Department, also found that, nationally, the dropout rate remained unchanged between 1990 and 1991.

While previous reports included only national data, the new report, using data from the 1990 Census, is the first to break down dropout rates for all 50 states, every county, and for 250 of the nation's largest cities.

It found that the five states with the highest dropout rates were Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, and Nevada. Those rates ranged from 14.1 percent in Georgia to 14.9 percent in Nevada. In addition, the District of Columbia had a 19.1 percent dropout rate. Nationally, 11.2 percent of 16-to-19-year-olds had not completed high school or were not enrolled in school.

In contrast, the states with lowest dropout figures--North Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Iowa, and Nebraska--had rates ranging from 4.3 percent to 6.6 percent.

Among large cities, California had several with some of the highest dropout rates, due in part to its large immigrant population.

Researchers have pointed out that dropout rates according to this definition tend to be high in areas of high immigration because many immigrants arrive with little or no education. According to the new report, 43 percent of Hispanics ages 16 to 24 born outside the United States lacked diplomas, compared with only 17 percent of Hispanics who were first-generation Americans.

Reason for Optimism

In addition to the 1990 data, the department found that, in 1991, 12.5 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds nationwide were not enrolled in school or did not have high-school diplomas. That rate, which translates to about 3.9 million young people, was basically unchanged from the two previous years.

Using a slightly different calculation, the department also found that 4 percent of all high school students, ages 16 to 24, dropped out of school in 1991 alone. That number, too, was about the same as the year before.

Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander said there was reason for optimism, however, because the statistics also suggest that about 75 percent of young people who drop out eventually earn a high school diploma or its equivalent. The study showed, for example, that although only 74 percent of high school students complete high school by age 19, 86 percent do so by age 22.

"This dramatically shows that young Americans without a high school degree soon realize that a better education means a better job and a better life,'' Mr. Alexander said. "High school isn't a timed test that must be completed when the student is 17 or 18 or 19.''

Mr. Alexander also took heart in the long-term trend toward lower dropout rates. In 1972, for example, 14.6 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds dropped out of school, and only 82 percent of 21- and 22-year-olds held a high school diploma.

In the national education goals, the President and the nation's governors pledged to raise the national high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2000. Mr. Alexander said the long-term trends indicate that goal may be met "ahead of schedule.''

Trends over time also suggest that the gap between the dropout rates for white and black students is beginning to close. The percentage of black 21- and 22-year-olds who completed high school rose from 74 percent in 1972 to 81 percent last year. The completion rate for white 21- and 22-year-olds, in comparison, rose only 5 percentage points, to 90 percent, over the same period.

Hispanics, however, fared much worse. Only 61.1 percent of Hispanic 21- and 22-year-olds had completed high school in 1991. The dropout rates for that group, which have remained high over the last 20 years, were two to five times higher than the rates for white and black students.

The report, "Dropout Rates in the United States: 1991,'' is available for $10 from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. The stock number is 065-000-00519-1.

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