By on 4.9.19 in Education

We often help policymakers and educators understand the landscape of educational attainment in North Carolina, with a focus on high school completion rates and the transition to postsecondary programs. As part of this work, we focused on several questions related to North Carolina’s high school student population, including:

  • How many students are graduating high school on time?
  • Why (and when) do students dropout?
  • And why is it so important that students graduate from high school?

On-time graduation rates are increasing

Over the past twelve years, the share of North Carolina 9th graders graduating high school in four years—also known as the on-time graduation rate—has steadily increased.

Our state’s on-time graduation rate steadily rose from 68.3% in 2006 to 86.5% in 2017. This rate dipped 0.2 percentage points to 86.3% in 2018, with small declines for most groups.

But even with improved on-time graduation rates, students are still dropping out

Despite these overall improvements in on-time graduation, this still means that more than one in every eight ninth graders (13.7%) dropped out or did not complete high school within four years. For the 120,000 students who began 9th grade in 2014, this means that 16,450 did not receive a diploma on time. Students who are held back or have a break in their high school enrollment are more likely to dropout.

According to the most recent state evaluation (2017–18), most students dropped out in 10th grade (30%), followed by 9th grade (27%), 11th grade (25%), and 12th grade (15%). The most commonly cited reason for dropout was attendance issues (47%), followed by unknown (9.5%).* Other reasons for dropout included lack of engagement (7.5%), choosing work over school or needing employment (7.1%), academic problems (3.1%), and incarceration in an adult facility (2.1%).

Why does this matter?

Earning a high school diploma is associated with general economic, social, and health benefits. Compared with adults without a high school degree, high school graduates

Successfully attaining a high school diploma is a necessary step in the transition to either college or gainful employment. Earning a high school equivalency credential, like the GED, is not the same as a high school diploma. Compared to high school graduates, individuals with a GED earn less in the labor market and are less likely to go to college. The high school diploma is more than an indicator of academic knowledge; it is also a barometer of the individual’s capacity to stick with a task and other soft skills that may be harder to quantify.

Next up: What are outcomes for Career & Technical Education (CTE) graduates in North Carolina?

*According to NC DPI: “In most districts, school social workers or school counselors are responsible for documenting the reasons for dropping out. By their very nature, dropout events can be difficult to investigate, leading to circumstances when school officials must provide an “approximate” reason for a student’s leaving school.”

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