Digging into the Varied State High School Graduation Rates

Connexeo - 06/27/2018

The national high school graduation rate was at a record high 84.1% in the 2015-16 academic year, and the highest gains since 2010-11 have come primarily in southern and western states that are experiencing large population growth.

The U.S. rate represented a 5.1-percentage-point increase since the 79.0% recorded in 2010-11, rising at a rate of 1 percentage point a year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The 2015-16 numbers are the latest available.

U.S. High School Graduation Rates


The graduation-rate increases of this decade to date is a function of increased rates in 50 of the 51 geographic entities listed (the 50 states plus the District of Columbia). Only Oklahoma, where 81.6% of students who entered high school four years earlier graduated in 2016, compared to 84.8% in 2012-13, saw its graduation rate decrease.

Iowa recorded the highest graduation rate in 2016, with 91.3% of students who started high school four years earlier earning their diplomas. New Jersey and West Virginia were the only other states to hit 90%, and 17 other states reported rates in the 87%-89% range. DC had the lowest graduation rate, at 69.2%, followed by New Mexico at 71.0% and Nevada at 73.6%.

Top 10 State Graduation Rates

Several of the lower-performing states, though, have greatly improved their graduation rates in the six-year period studied. DC, though it had the lowest graduation rate in the nation, has improved its rate by 10.2 percentage points so far this decade. Nevada had an even better lift, rising 11.6 percentage points. New Mexico, also in the bottom three, has improved 8.0 percentage points since 2010-11.

Southeastern states recorded the highest increases in graduation rates, as the table below shows:

Graduation Rates Comparison

As states double down on efforts to increase their graduation rates – initiatives which are obviously succeeding – they are also growing in population and public-school enrollment. Sometimes the two go hand in hand.

Of the states listed in the table above, DC, Utah and Nevada were all among the top 10 for 18-and-younger population growth and public-school enrollment growth in the same six-year period as the graduation-rate data. Florida was on the population-change leaderboard. In these instances, at least, graduation rates are increasing along with the population.

Meanwhile, a total of 1,147 public high schools in 2016 graduated 100% of the freshmen who had entered school four years earlier – 5.6% of the 20,548 schools nationwide. State by state, it didn’t necessarily hold that the largest states had most of these perfect-performance schools.

Numerically, Texas had the most schools that graduated its entire class – 293, or 16.4% of the state’s public high schools, almost triple the national percentage. California, with the most schools in the nation at 2,185, had only 95 with 100% grad rates, a below-the-national-standard 4.3%.

On a percentage basis, the “flyover states” have the largest portion of schools achieving graduation-rate perfection:

  • 7% of Nebraska schools (64 of 240) attained 100% graduation
  • 23% of South Dakota schools (32 of 139)
  • 8% of Missouri schools (88 of 495)
  • 2% of Iowa schools (51 of 335)
  • 6% of Montana schools (16 out of 118)
  • 3% of Kansas schools (35 out of 311)

11 states had no schools attaining a 100% graduation rate.



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