This study uses a widely respected method to calculate graduation rates, both nationally and for each state, for each public school graduating class from 1991 to 2002. It also combines graduation rate calculations with data provided by the U.S. Department of Education to calculate the percentage of all students who left high school eligible for college in each year. Because the requirements to graduate from high school are set lower than the requirements to apply to a four-year college, many high school graduates are ineligible to enroll.
Findings of the study include:
- The national high school graduation rate for all public school students remained flat over the last decade, going from 72% in 1991 to 71% in 2002.
- Nationally, the percentage of all students who left high school with the skills and qualifications necessary to attend college increased from 25% in 1991 to 34% in 2002. The finding of flat high school graduation rates and increasing college readiness rates is likely the result of the increased standards and accountability programs over the last decade, which have required students to take more challenging courses required for admission to college without pushing those students to drop out of high school.
- The state with the highest graduation rate in the nation in 2002 was New Jersey (89%), followed by Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Dakota (each at 85%). The state with the lowest graduation rate in the nation was South Carolina (53%), followed by Georgia (56%), Tennessee (57%), and Alabama (58%).
- There is a wide disparity in the graduation rates of white and minority students. In the class of 2002, about 78% of white students graduated from high school with a regular diploma, compared to 56% of African-American students and 52% of Hispanic students.
- There is also a large difference among racial and ethnic groups in the percentage of students who leave high school eligible for college admission. About 40% of white students, 23% of African-American students, and 20% of Hispanic students who started public high school graduated college-ready in 2002.
- There is very little difference between the number of students who graduate from high school college-ready and the number of students who enroll in college for the first time. This indicates that there is not a large pool of students who have the skills necessary to attend college but do not do so because of lack of funds or other non-academic factors.