Equity & Diversity

High School Dropout Rate Among Hispanics Reaches All-Time Low, Study Finds

By Catherine Gewertz — October 02, 2017 3 min read
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UPDATED The high school dropout rate among Hispanic students has dropped sharply in the past decade, reaching an all-time low of 10 percent, according to a new study.

In 1996, 34 percent of Hispanic students had left high school before earning their diplomas, but by 2016, that number had fallen to 10 percent, an all-time low, according to the Pew Research Center. The Pew report, released last week, was based on new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Hispanic students are enrolling in college at higher rates, too. In 2016, 47 percent of Hispanic students in the 18-to-24 age group were enrolled in college, compared to 35 percent a decade earlier, according to the Pew study.

The national high school dropout rate has been declining, reaching 6 percent in 2016, Pew reports. (High school graduation rates have been rising, too, as you probably recall: The national rate hit an all-time high of 83.2 percent in 2014-15, the most recent year for which data are available.

The Pew study shows that dropout rates declined for all groups of students except Asians. That group had the lowest dropout rate, but it ticked up slightly between 2014 and 2016. Hispanics still have the highest dropout rate, but experienced the biggest decline in dropouts.

John Bridgeland, the president and CEO of Civic Enterprises, which tracks shifts in the high school graduation rate, said the Pew findings echo patterns his organization has noticed. His organization and the America’s Promise Alliance, the Alliance for Excellent Education, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University produce the annual “Building a Grad Nation” reports that examine high school completion patterns.

One of those changes has been a sharp decline in the number of high school “dropout factories,” schools where fewer than 67 percent of students earn diplomas in four years. The 2017 edition of “Building a Grad Nation” found that number had fallen by nearly half, to about 1,000 schools.

Interviews with school and district leaders from more than 200 communities suggest three key areas that could be helping to lower Latino students’ dropout rates, and high school dropout rates in general, he said.

Communities that see sharp declines in their dropout rates are places where principals and superintendents are building an “every student counts” culture, Bridgeland said.

“It’s not just a slogan in these places,” he said. “They’re getting data around each student: their attendance, their behavior, their course grades, and building early-warning systems” that offer support before problems become severe.

Districts where dropout rates are declining are also frequently working hard to help students get an early start to envision college and careers, and focusing not just on academic support, but on social and emotional support of students, too, Bridgeland said.

The Pew study notes that Hispanic students still lag behind other student groups in getting college degrees. And “Building a Grad Nation” reports that they still trail their peers in completing high school. Only 77.8 percent of Latino students graduate from high school in four years, compared with 88 percent and 90 percent among white and Asian students, respectively.

Even as the dropout rate declines, policymakers must keep an eye on whether it’s “translating” into other successes, such as better rates of college persistence and completion, Bridgeland said.

UPDATED Gov. Bob Wise, the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, attributed some of the improvement in the Latino dropout rate to federal law and rules that require schools to report high school graduation rates by student subgroup. Those rules focused attention on the needs of Latino students, and helped reshape pedagogy to better support them, said Wise, the former governor of West Virginia.

The decline in the high school dropout rate is worth celebrating, but Wise said that progress could be threatened by the current political climate around immigration and DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. That policy, begun under President Barack Obama, has protected many immigrant students from deportation. President Donald Trump has said he intends to dismantle it.

Wise said he has spoken with many students who say they would drop out of high school, or decline to enroll in college, to avoid exposing their parents to possible deportation.

For more stories about the high school graduation rate, see:

Is the High School Graduation Rate Inflated? No, Study Says

Doubting That ‘Record’ 83 Percent High School Graduation Rate?

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.