College & Workforce Readiness Research Center Reports

Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap

April 2009

This new report from the EPE Research Center finds that barely one-half of students in the nation’s 50 largest cities complete high school with a diploma. But the study, a successor to 2008’s Cities in Crisis, also discovers signs of improvement, with rising graduation rates and narrowing urban-suburban gaps in recent years.

Excerpt from Introduction—The Rising Stakes of Graduation

By Christopher B. Swanson

The condition of the nation’s high schools stands as a central concern among both educators and policymakers. In particular, independent research—once viewed as controversial but now increasingly acknowledged by elected and appointed officials in the highest levels of government—has revealed a state of affairs in which three in ten students fail to finish high school with a diploma and in which barely half of historically disadvantaged minority students graduate. The term “crisis” has frequently, and rightly, been used to describe the challenges facing America’s high schools.

This report, a successor to 2008’s Cities in Crisis, takes stock of high school graduation in the nation’s 50 largest cities and their broader metropolitan areas. In addition, we will consider the progress that has been made—or, in some cases, the ground that has been lost—during the past decade. While the scale of the dropout crisis remains troubling, it is worth noting that the majority of the nation’s largest cities have seen improvements in their graduation rates over this period and that some of those gains have been substantial.

Closing the Graduation Gap also maps the intersection between education and the economy, as it relates to the impact of schooling on the key economic outcomes of employment, income, and poverty. Specifically, our focus will be on the nation’s largest metropolitan areas and the local advantages that accrue to earning a high school diploma. In today’s world, of course, finishing high school is probably best thought of as a bare-minimum prerequisite to function successfully in many aspects of adult life, particularly those associated with achieving financial security and career advancement. As our analyses will demonstrate, a high school diploma may offer its greatest benefit by opening doors to further education and training, which in turn afford additional opportunities.

Prepared with support from the America’s Promise Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.