Special Report

Graduation Profiles

June 07, 2007 3 min read
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High School Graduation Rates, 2003-04
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About 70 percent of all students in the nation graduate from high school with a regular diploma, according to 2003-04 data from the EPE Research Center. Thirty percentage points separate the graduation rates in best- and worst-performing states (83.8 percent in Utah vs. 53.8 percent in South Carolina). Large disparities are found across racial and ethnic groups, with about half of American Indian and black students graduating, compared with more than three-quarters of non-Hispanic whites and Asians.

1.23 Million Students, Most From Minority Groups, Fail to Graduate


The Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) used to measure graduation rates in this report estimates the percent of 9th grade students who will receive a high school diploma four school years later. Multiplying the CPI for 2003-04 by the number of 9th graders enrolled that year, we can project the expected number of graduates and nongraduates for the 2006-07 school year.

We performed similar projections for specific racial and ethnic groups. That analysis shows that minority students make up more than half of nongraduates, even though minorities account for less than half the total public school population. This overrepresentation of minorities among nongraduates results from much lower graduation rates compared with whites.

Racial and Ethnic Groups as a Percentage of Nongraduates


The High School Pipeline

The Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) method of calculating graduation rates can be used to examine the high school pipeline. That is, we can estimate the numbers of students who fall off track for earning a diploma at various points between the 9th grade and the expected time of graduation.

For every 100 students in the 9th grade, 90 will remain in the education pipeline until their sophomore year. But only about 70 will make it until graduation four years later.

Where are students lost? Nationally, more than one-third of the students lost from the high school pipeline fail to make the transition from 9th to 10th grade.

The Freshman Challenge

The freshman year is the leading source of loss from the high school pipeline in a majority of states. However, the percent of students lost at the critical 9th- to 10th-grade juncture varies tremendously from state to state. In Utah, fewer than 5 percent of nongraduates leave the high school pipeline between the 9th and 10th grades. At the other end of the spectrum—in Delaware, Florida, and Texas— a majority of leakage from the pipeline occurs during the critical 9th grade year.


Graduation Rates Stagnating

After several years of steady improvement, graduation rates have remained stable at just under 70 percent since 2002.


Gender Gap in Diplomas Practically Universal

Male students are consistently less likely to graduate from high school with a diploma. Nationally, the gender gap in graduation stands at nearly 8 percentage points. Females also earn diplomas at higher rates within every racial and ethnic group examined, with the largest disparity (more than 13 percentage points) found among black students.


Lowest To Highest Graduation Rates in the Nation’s 50 Largest Districts

Rate District Size Rank Rate District Size Rank
24.9 Detroit 15 61.7 Memphis, Tenn. 21
34.1 Cleveland 48 62.2 Polk County, Fla. 34
34.6 Baltimore 31 63.5 Long Beach, Calif. 28
44.4 Dallas 14 63.7 Jefferson County, Ky. 30
45.2 New York City 1 64.1 Hawaii (statewide district) 9
45.3 Los Angeles 2 65.6 Orange County, Fla. 12
46.1 Milwaukee 29 66.5 Northside, Texas 46
46.3 Denver 45 66.9 Prince George’s County, Md. 18
49.0 Miami-Dade County, Fla. 4 67.2 Gwinnett County, Ga. 20
49.6 Philadelphia 8 67.2 Fulton County, Ga. 44
50.2 Duval County, Fla. 19 67.4 Virginia Beach, Va. 38
51.3 Dekalb County, Ga. 27 69.5 Cobb County, Ga. 26
51.5 Chicago 3 69.8 Brevard County, Fla. 43
53.0 Pinellas County, Fla. 22 74.6 Anne Arundel County, Md. 42
53.1 Clark County, Nev. 6 75.1 Hillsborough County, Fla. 10
54.6 Houston 7 76.2 Wake County, N.C. 24
55.5 Fort Worth, Texas 36 77.0 Nashville-Davidson County, Tenn. 49
55.6 Orleans Parish, La. 50 77.1 Mesa, Ariz. 39
56.1 Palm Beach County, Fla. 11 80.1 Granite, Utah 47
57.4 Fresno, Calif. 35 80.3 Montgomery County, Md. 16
58.2 Austin, Texas 37 80.4 Fairfax County, Va. 13
58.9 Broward County, Fla. 5 81.1 Baltimore County, Md. 25
58.9 Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. 23 81.5 Jefferson County, Colo. 33
60.8 Albuquerque, N.M. 32 86.9 Cypress-Fairbanks, Texas 40
61.6 San Diego 17 88.5 Jordan, Utah 41

A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 2007 edition of Education Week as Graduation Profiles


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