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High School Graduation (see data for this topic)

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Why This Topic Is Important
Dropping out of high school is associated with a range of adverse life outcomes (1). Young people who do not complete high school are more likely to struggle with employment, live in poverty, be dependent on welfare benefits, have poor physical and mental health, and engage in criminal activity than those with higher education levels (1). Though many individuals who do not receive a high school diploma go on to earn an equivalency degree, such as a GED, this credential also is associated with lower earning potential than a traditional diploma (2). The economic consequences of dropping out of high school do not stop with the individual; society also pays a high price (1). For example, dropouts from the nation’s class of 2011 will cost the U.S. economy an estimated $154 billion over the course of their lifetimes (1). Dropout rates also are related to higher rates of imprisonment. A report from the California Attorney General estimates that students who do not complete high school are eight times more likely to be incarcerated than those who graduate (3).
For more information on high school dropouts see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Child Trends Databank. (2015). High school dropout rates. Retrieved from:

2.  Ewert, S. (2012). What it’s worth: Field of training and economic status in 2009. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from:

3.  California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General. (n.d.). In school and on track 2016: Attorney General's 2016 report on California's elementary school truancy and absenteeism crisis. Retrieved from:
Policy Implications
Students drop out of high school for a variety of reasons. Risk factors associated with dropping out include absenteeism, behavioral problems, suspension, and course failure (1, 2, 3). Underlying causes for these factors may be related to chronic health or mental health conditions, poverty, and other issues (1, 3). Children at risk of poor educational outcomes can be identified early and successfully supported to stay engaged in school (1, 3). In addition to identifying and addressing risk factors for dropping out, policymakers can promote evidence-based strategies to foster student, family, school, and community strengths associated with higher graduation rates (1, 2).

Although the gap in dropout rates among racial/ethnic groups has been closing in recent years, California dropout rates still are highest for African American/black, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latino, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students (1, 4). Other populations at higher risk of dropping out include English Learners, youth in foster care, and special education students (1, 5).

Policies that could promote high school graduation include:
  • Continuing to encourage K-12 schools to engage students, families, and community partners in developing comprehensive, coordinated, evidence-based systems to support student needs and promote a positive school climate; such systems should involve school-based health services to identify and address student physical and mental health issues, strategies to address behavior problems (e.g., bullying), and efforts to promote social and emotional skills (1, 2, 6, 7)
  • Ensuring effective implementation of California’s Local Control Funding Formula and a continued focus on providing adequate resources to support low-income students, students of color, youth in foster care, students with disabilities, and English Learners to achieve graduation rates equal to other students (1, 5)
  • Improving policies and programs focused on early identification of students who are struggling, including young students in feeder schools, and providing tailored support for those students, especially at critical periods such as in middle school and the transition to 9th grade; examples of targeted support include improving parent-school communication and engagement, and connecting students to mentoring, tutoring, or other community-based programs (1, 3, 7)
  • Continuing to support and improve comprehensive data systems that accurately document dropout risk factors and inform strategies for student success, including early warning indicators, data sharing, and longitudinal tracking (1, 3)
  • Setting ambitious, annual measurable objectives for increasing the number of students who graduate (1)
  • Avoiding “zero tolerance” school discipline approaches, and promoting discipline policies that are non-punitive, transparent, fair, consistent, and aim to keep students in school when possible (1, 8)
For more policy ideas and research on this topic, see’s Research & Links section, or visit GradNation, the Institute of Education Sciences What Works Clearinghouse, or the California Dropout Research Project. Also see Policy Implications under the following topics on Disconnected Youth, College Eligibility, and Truancy, Suspensions & Expulsions.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  DePaoli, J. L., et al. (2015). Building a grad nation: Progress and challenge in ending the high school dropout epidemic. Civic Enterprises & Everyone Graduates Center at the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved from:

2.  Center for Promise. (2015). The building blocks of a GradNation: Assets for keeping young people in school. America’s Promise Alliance. Retrieved from:

3.  United Way Worldwide. (2013). Solving the high school graduation crisis: Identifying and using school feeder patterns in your community. Retrieved from:

4.  As cited on, Students not completing high school, by race/ethnicity. (2016). California Department of Education, California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS).

5.  Barrat, V., & Berliner, B. (2013). The invisible achievement gap: Education outcomes of students in foster care in California’s public schools. WestEd. Retrieved from:

6.  Basch, C. E., et al. (2015). Health barriers to learning and the education opportunity gap. Education Commission of the States. Retrieved from:

7.  Bayerl, K., et al. (2014). In and beyond schools: Putting more youth on the path to success with integrated support. Jobs for the Future & Advancement Project California. Retrieved from:

8.  Morgan, E., et al. (2014). The school discipline consensus report: Strategies from the field to keep students engaged in school and out of the juvenile justice system. Council of State Governments Justice Center. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
In California, 82% of students who started high school in 2011 graduated with their class in 2015, up from 75% of the 2006-2010 cohort. Among counties with data in 2015, seven had graduation rates of at least 90%. Across counties and years, female students have higher graduation rates than their male counterparts.

According to 2015 data, more than 52,000 California students who started high school in 2011 exited before graduating—about 1 in every 9 students. Dropout rates vary at the county and school district levels, as well as by racial/ethnic group. Generally, African American/black, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latino, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students have higher dropout rates than Asian American, white, and Filipino students.