2020 High School Graduation Rate Held Steady Despite Pandemic Disruptions

Posted July 7, 2023
A diverse group of high school students post-graduation, wearing caps and gowns and holding diplomas.

The lat­est data from the 20192020 school year show that the nation main­tained its his­toric high of 86% of high school stu­dents grad­u­at­ing on time, even as the pan­dem­ic dis­rupt­ed edu­ca­tion and dai­ly life.

High school grad­u­a­tion rates are a key indi­ca­tor of youth well-being. Stu­dents who grad­u­ate from high school are more like­ly to pur­sue post­sec­ondary edu­ca­tion and train­ing and have bet­ter long-term employ­ment and health prospects than those who do not graduate.

U.S. grad­u­a­tion rates have been steadi­ly improv­ing for years. Specif­i­cal­ly, new­ly updat­ed data from the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter show that 14% of U.S. high school stu­dents did not grad­u­ate on time in 20192020 — the same rate as the pre­vi­ous year and an improve­ment of 4 per­cent­age points from 20132014, the ear­li­est year available.

High School Students Not Graduating On Time (Percent)

All Racial and Eth­nic Groups Made High School Grad­u­a­tion Gains in the Last Decade

Time­ly grad­u­a­tion rates improved for all racial and eth­nic groups from 20132014 to 20192020, with some demon­strat­ing sub­stan­tial gains. When com­par­ing 20182019 to 20192020 — before and after the pan­dem­ic took hold — rates held firm or improved for all but one group: Asian and Pacif­ic Islander youth, with grad­u­a­tion rates falling by 1 per­cent­age point to 92%.

Although racial inequities in edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties and out­comes remain a seri­ous prob­lem, dis­par­i­ties in grad­u­a­tion rates have nar­rowed over the last sev­en years.

HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS NOT GRADUATING ON TIME BY RACE AND ETHNICITY IN UNITED STATES

Key trends by racial and eth­nic group:

  • Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native stu­dents: Three in four (75%) grad­u­at­ed on time in 201920, an improve­ment of 1 per­cent­age point from 20182019 and 5 per­cent­age points over the last sev­en years. Despite these gains, Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native stu­dents still face more hur­dles to on-time grad­u­a­tion than their peers of oth­er racial and eth­nic backgrounds.
  • Black stu­dents: Over four in five (81%) achieved time­ly grad­u­a­tion in 20192020, up by 1 per­cent­age point from 20182019 and 9 per­cent­age points over the last sev­en years. This was the largest improve­ment of any racial or eth­nic group in this period.
  • Lati­no or His­pan­ic stu­dents: Rates remained even — at 82% — from 20182019 to 20192020, but they rose by 6 per­cent­age points since 20132014.
  • White stu­dents: Time­ly grad­u­a­tion rates increased by 1 per­cent­age point between 20182019 and 20192020 — to 90% and by 3 per­cent­age points since 20132014.
  • Asian and Pacif­ic Islander stu­dents: Although rates declined slight­ly in 20192020, as not­ed, they still improved by 3 per­cent­age points over the pre­vi­ous sev­en years, and at 92%, this group con­tin­ues to be the most like­ly to grad­u­ate on time com­pared to oth­er racial or eth­nic groups. How­ev­er, when edu­ca­tion data are dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by spe­cif­ic Asian Amer­i­can and Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander groups, large dis­par­i­ties emerge as these are wide­ly het­eroge­nous populations.

High School Grad­u­a­tion Rates Also Vary at the State Level

In 20192020, rates ranged from just over three-quar­ters (77%) of stu­dents grad­u­at­ing on time in New Mex­i­co and Ari­zona to more than nine in ten (92%) in Iowa and West Vir­ginia. More than half of states exceed­ed the nation­al rate (86%) that year. Look­ing at progress since 20132014, all but four states demon­strat­ed improve­ments in these sev­en years, although just 24 states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia made gains from 20182019 to 20192020.

Future Out­look on Grad­u­a­tion Rates

The pan­dem­ic led to school clo­sures, vir­tu­al instruc­tion and increased social iso­la­tion, caus­ing con­cerns about stu­dent learn­ing loss and declines in school con­nec­tion. Data from 2022 bear out these con­cerns with drops in stu­dent read­ing and math pro­fi­cien­cy, and a spike in chron­ic absen­teeism. As post-2020 grad­u­a­tion rates become avail­able, they may show wors­en­ing trends, as well. To recov­er from the pan­dem­ic and elim­i­nate inequities, schools and com­mu­ni­ties need to part­ner on com­pre­hen­sive approach­es to sup­port stu­dent suc­cess, par­tic­u­lar­ly for vul­ner­a­ble stu­dents. This includes strength­en­ing sys­tems in and out­side of schools to address diverse stu­dent needs, from edu­ca­tion and fam­i­ly needs to emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal health issues.

Access More Infor­ma­tion Relat­ed to High School Graduation

High school grad­u­a­tion rates are also tracked in the KIDS COUNT Index, which is report­ed annu­al­ly in the KIDS COUNT Data Book2023 ver­sion now available.

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