2020 High School Graduation Rate Held Steady Despite Pandemic Disruptions
The latest data from the 2019–2020 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 2019–2020 — the same rate as the previous year and an improvement of 4 percentage points from 2013–2014, the earliest year available.
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 2013–2014 to 2019–2020, with some demonstrating substantial gains. When comparing 2018–2019 to 2019–2020 — 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.
Key trends by racial and ethnic group:
- American Indian and Alaska Native students: Three in four (75%) graduated on time in 2019–20, an improvement of 1 percentage point from 2018–2019 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 2019–2020, up by 1 percentage point from 2018–2019 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 2018–2019 to 2019–2020, but they rose by 6 percentage points since 2013–2014.
- White students: Timely graduation rates increased by 1 percentage point between 2018–2019 and 2019–2020 — to 90% and by 3 percentage points since 2013–2014.
- Asian and Pacific Islander students: Although rates declined slightly in 2019–2020, 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 2019–2020, 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 2013–2014, all but four states demonstrated improvements in these seven years, although just 24 states and the District of Columbia made gains from 2018–2019 to 2019–2020.
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
- Preparing High School Students for Careers During and After the Pandemic, 2023
- Explore the Foundation’s educational resources
- See all education data on the KIDS COUNT Data Center
- Visit Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center
High school graduation rates are also tracked in the KIDS COUNT Index, which is reported annually in the KIDS COUNT Data Book — 2023 version now available.