Dropout Rate Continues Downward Trend

Published September 1, 1999

Out of a total 9.9 million young adults aged 15-24 enrolled in high school in October 1996, some 454,000, or 4.6 percent, had quit school by the following October without successfully completing a high school program, according to a new government report to Congress.

That’s the bad news. The good is that this figure represents the lowest dropout rate for the past four years and continues a steady downward trend for the past three years. Compared to 1995, 1997 had 90,000 fewer dropouts, even though 475,000 more students were enrolled in high school.

Despite the welcome drop in the event dropout rate, from 5.7 percent in 1995 to 4.6 percent in 1997, the sheer number of dropouts is still staggering: 3.6 million young adults aged 16-24 are not enrolled in school and have not yet completed a high school program. That amounts to 11.0 percent of the 33 million young adults in that age group–what the report refers to as the status dropout rate. Again, these figures represent an improvement over 1995, when 12.0 percent of the same age group possessed no high school diploma or GED and were not enrolled in high school.

Notwithstanding the short-term downtrend in dropout rates, the high school completion rate has shown only a slight improvement over the past decade, moving up to 85.9 percent in 1997 from 85.5 percent in 1987. In 1997, just over three-quarters (76.7 percent) of the 18- to 24-year-olds not still in high school were reported as being high school graduates. Another 9.1 percent completed an alternative route, such as the GED.

“The economic consequences of leaving high school without a diploma are severe,” warn Phillip Kaufman, Steve Klein, and Mary Frase in their report, Dropout Rates in the United States: 1997. Released earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the report is the tenth in the series and presents data for 1997 on high school dropout rates, high school completion rates, and graduation rates.

Compared to high school graduates, dropouts are:

  • more likely to be unemployed;
  • more likely to earn less money;
  • more likely to receive public assistance; and
  • if female, more likely to have children at younger ages and more likely to be a single parent.

“The individual stresses and frustrations associated with dropping out have social implications as well,” write the authors, noting that “dropouts comprise a disproportionate percentage of the nation’s prison and death row inmates.”

Event dropout rates vary significantly by income, race, and region. For example,

  • The dropout rate for Hispanics (9.5 percent) is almost three times higher than the rate for non-Hispanic whites.
  • Young adults from low-income families experience a dropout rate of 12.3 percent compared to only 1.8 percent for youth from high-income families.
  • The West has an overall dropout rate of 6.6 percent, while the Northeast has a rate of 3.5 percent.

For more information …

The report by Phillip Kaufman, Steve Klein, and Mary Frase, Dropout Rates in the United States: 1997, is published by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. A copy may be obtained by calling the Department at 1-877-4-ED-PUBS.