The American education system can celebrate a bit of good news, as a study released by the U.S. Department of Education earlier this week concludes that high school graduation rates among U.S. students are the highest they have been since 1976.
Officials say that the improving graduation rates have come in part because a substantial majority of jobs that have potential for advancement require at least a high school diploma of all candidates. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan underscored that point when he said that there are just not many good employment opportunities out there for people who dropped out of high school prior to graduating, adding that this is one of the biggest employment market changes to have taken place in the past decade.
Additional good news came from the fact that the high school dropout rate likewise dropped from a year before. Overall, only 3% of students dropped out of high school without getting their diploma.
Some 3.1 million students nationwide earned their high school diplomas in the spring of 2010, with 78 percent of students finishing on time. That's the best since a 75 percent on-time graduation rate during the 1975-76 academic year.
The only better rate was 79 percent in 1969-70, a figure the department wouldn't vouch for.
More than 38 states saw a graduation rate increase of one percent or more in the latest edition of the report. On the flip side, Washington D.C. was the only district that experienced a decline of similar magnitude. Duncan attributed the numbers to the economic realities in place after the 2008 financial collapse and subsequent recession.
"When I grew up on the South Side of Chicago it wasn't great, but I had lots of friends who dropped out and they could go work in the stockyards or steel mills and they could buy a home, support a family, do OK," Duncan said.
But those jobs are gone and won't come back, he said.
California had the honor of producing the highest number of high school graduates, but also the dubious distinction of leading the nation in dropouts — but because it hosts the largest public school system in the country, neither of those two numbers is much of a surprise. Still, its dropout rate proved to be roughly 5%, which was still above the national average.
It was not as high as Arizona, which had the highest dropout rate in the country at 8%.
During the 2009-10 academic year, some 514,000 students dropped out of high school nationwide. Still, the rate declined from 4 percent during the seven previous academic years, when data was sometimes incomplete or represented averages of states that reported figures. Nationally, students were most likely to drop out of high school during their senior year, with roughly one in 20 quitting before graduation day. In every state, males were more likely to drop out.