Graduates and dropouts: Some good news for June


With graduation season in full swing, the Education Research Center’s Diplomas Count reports that more young adults are graduating from high school than at any time since 1973. The national graduation rate has risen by eight points during the past ten years, to 74.7 percent. “At the current pace of improvement,” Education Week reports, “the portion of students earning a diploma could surpass the historical high of 77.1 percent within the next few years.”

Minnesota’s graduation numbers are better than the national average. At 80.4 percent, our graduation rate is the tenth-highest in the country. (For a note on how graduation rates are calculated, sidebar.)

Looking at all Minnesota young adults, ages 16-21, 79.2 percent are in school, either high school or post-secondary school of some variety. Most of the 20.8 percent who are not now in school have completed high school. Only 4.3 percent of Minnesota’s young adults are out of school and have not completed high school.

Not all the news is good

“Only 4.3 percent” is still a lot of young Minnesotans — approximately 19,000. “Recoverable youths” is the term the report uses for the young adults who are out of school without a completed high school education. Whether you call them recoverable youths or drop-outs, they need help. They are not on a path to success.


Calculating graduation rates

The Education Research Center uses a complicated Cumulative Promotion Index to figure out the percentage of graduates.

The CPI method represents the high school experience as a process rather than an event, capturing the four key steps a student must take in order to graduate: three grade-to-grade promotions (9 to 10, 10 to 11, and 11 to 12) and ultimately earning a diploma (grade 12 to graduation). Each of these individual components corresponds to a grade-promotion ratio. Multiplying these four grade-specific promotion ratios together produces the graduation rate.”

There are at least four ways to report graduation rates — Minnesota officially uses what EPE calls the “leaver rate,” which yields a graduation rate of 90 percent.

The important thing, in my humble opinion, is to be consistent about which rate you are using. All of the numbers in this article use the EPE calculations.

One more note: the EPE counts as graduates only the students who get a high school diploma, not those who complete high school through GED. 

The ERC report on Minnesota youth finds that slightly more than two-thirds (67.5 percent) of the young adults who have graduated from high school but are not enrolled in post-secondary education have jobs. In sharp contrast, the young adults who are out of school and don’t have diplomas are mostly unemployed. Only 44 percent have jobs. 

And the devil, as always, is in the details.

Native American, Hispanic and Black youth are disproportionately represented in the “recoverable youths” category. Native American youths make up 1.2 percent of all young adults in Minnesota, but 7.3 percent of the recoverable youths; Hispanics make up 6.0 percent of all young adults, but 22.3 percent of recoverable youths; and Black youths are 6.4 percent of all young adults, but 12.3 percent of recoverable youths.

Asian youths make up 5.8 percent of all, and are slightly overrepresented at 7.9 percent of recoverable youth (though I’m not sure that’s statistically significant.) White youths, on the other hand, make up 77.4 percent of all young adults but only 46.4 percent of recoverable youth.

Recovering the youth

Returning to school after dropping out is hard. BethAnn Berliner studied 1,352 students who dropped out in San Bernardino between 2001 and 2006.

“More than 30 percent returned to school at least once—a handful of dogged souls came back three times—but in the end, fewer than one in five dropouts actually made it to graduation. The rest struggled a while longer, earning a few credits before giving up on high school for good.”

Students who drop out earlier have earned fewer credits and face a tougher road back. Nationally, 30.5 percent of students drop out in 9th grade, 27.1 percent in 10th grade, 16.7 percent in 11th grade, and 25.7 percent in 12th grade.

In Minnesota, 70.3 percent of the dropouts come in the 12th grade. I’m not sure how to look at that statistic. Maybe Minnesota drop-outs already have earned more of the credits they will need to graduate, so they should have an easier time returning and completing school? That might give Minnesota a better chance for “recovery” than other states. Or maybe something else  is at work — maybe students in Minnesota are being pushed out by inability to pass the exams required to graduate? If anyone knows the explanation, I’d like to hear it. 

Minneapolis’s We Want You Back campaign, begun in 2010, is one of the programs that works to “recover” the young people who leave school without graduating. They do GRAD testing, credit analysis, assistance with school placement and, for those who are 21 or older, assistance in finding an Adult Basic Education program.