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Manhattan Institute

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Public High School Graduation and College Readiness Rates in the United States

report

Public High School Graduation and College Readiness Rates in the United States

September 1, 2003
EducationPre K-12

Students who fail to graduate high school prepared to attend a four-year college are much less likely to gain full access to our country’s economic, political, and social opportunities. In this study we estimate the percentage of students in the public high school class of 2001 who actually possess the minimum qualifications for applying to four-year colleges.  To be “college ready” students must pass three crucial hurdles: they must graduate from high school, they must have taken certain courses in high school that colleges require for the acquisition of necessary skills, and they must demonstrate basic literacy skills.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Education we are able to estimate the percentage of students who graduate high school as well as the percentage that finish high school ready to attend a four-year college. We are also able to produce these estimates by racial/ethnic group as well as by region and state.

Specifically, the study’s findings include the following:

  • Only 70% of all students in public high schools graduate, and only 32% of all students leave high school qualified to attend four-year colleges.
  • Only 51% of all black students and 52% of all Hispanic students graduate, and only 20% of all black students and 16% of all Hispanic students leave high school college-ready.
  • The graduation rate for white students was 72%; for Asian students, 79%; and for American Indian students, 54%. The college readiness rate for white students was 37%; for Asian students, 38%; for American Indian students, 14%.
  • Graduation rates in the Northeast (73%) and Midwest (77%) were higher than the overall national figure, while graduation rates in the South (65%) and West (69%) were lower than the national figure. The Northeast and the Midwest had the same college readiness rate as the nation overall (32%) while the South had a higher rate (38%) and the West had a lower rate (25%).
  • The state with the highest graduation rate in the nation was North Dakota (89%); the state with the lowest graduation rate in the nation was Florida (56%).
  • Due to their lower college readiness rates, black and Hispanic students are seriously underrepresented in the pool of minimally qualified college applicants. Only 9% of all college-ready graduates are black and another 9% are Hispanic, compared to a total population of 18-year-olds that is 14% black and 17% Hispanic.
  • We estimate that there were about 1,299,000 college-ready 18-year-olds in 2000, and the actual number of persons entering college for the first time in that year was about 1,341,000. This indicates that there is not a large population of college-ready graduates who are prevented from actually attending college.
  • The portion of all college freshmen that is black (11%) or Hispanic (7%) is very similar to their shares of the college-ready population (9% for both). This suggests that the main reason these groups are underrepresented in college admissions is that these students are not acquiring college-ready skills in the K-12 system, rather than inadequate financial aid or affirmative action policies.

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