Report: High School Graduation Rates Increasing

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March 19, 2012; Source: America’s Promise Alliance

America’s Promise Alliance, a collaboration of 400+ corporations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and advocacy groups founded by General Colin Powell, recently released a study that found the nation’s graduation rates have increased 3.5 percent over the course of 2001 to 2009, from 72 percent to 75.5 percent. Though the numbers of students who graduate have improved, the report shows that one in four high school students still drop out every year. The actual number of young people this affects annually is equal to more than one million students in the United States.

The report highlights that the number of “dropout factory” high schools—and the number of students who attend them—has also declined significantly over the last decade. Although some states and school districts demonstrate that the dropout crisis can be solved, other states and districts lag behind, with 10 states facing lower graduation rates compared to measurements earlier in the decade. In order to reach the ambitious 90 percent graduation rate goal set by the “Civic Marshall Plan” through America’s Promise Alliance’s Grad Nation, the pace of high school graduates must accelerate more than three-fold by the time we get to the class of 2020.

The impact of low high school graduation rates impacts most everyone in the nonprofit sector, not just those working in education and youth-serving nonprofits, as the effects of failing to graduate reverberates throughout the communities that many in the sector serve. According to the report, individuals who drop out of high school lose potential earnings and cost the nation hundreds of billions of dollars in lost revenue, lower economic activity and increased social services.

Not that the value of a high school diploma can be measured strictly in dollars, but America’s Promise Alliance suggests that if every state had a graduation rate of 90 percent or better, an additional 580,000 students would have completed high school as the class of 2011, increasing the gross domestic product by $6.6 billion and generating $1.8 billion in additional revenue.

For those in education, graduating more students is a great feat to accomplish. However, some nonprofits and educational leaders find that simply having individuals complete high school is not enough. Students can graduate and still lack the life skills necessary to hold a job and become a productive community member and family member. Karen Pittman, a respected voice in the field who works with nonprofits to increase positive outcomes for youth, may have said it best: “Problem-free is not fully prepared [and] fully prepared is not fully engaged.” –Saras Chung