NCES Releases New Report on High School Dropout and Completion Rates Over Three Decades

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a report that looks at high school dropout and completion rates from 1972-2008. The report, Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972–2008, includes discussions of many rates used to study how students complete or fail to complete high school. It presents estimates of rates for 2008 and provides data about trends in dropout and completion rates over the last three and a half decades along with more recent estimates of on-time graduation from public high schools.

Highlights include:

  • High School Enrollment: In October 2008, approximately 3 million civilian non-institutionalized 16- through 24-year-olds were not enrolled in high school and had not earned a high school diploma or alternative credential.
  • Event dropout rates: On average, 3.5% of students who were enrolled in public or private high schools in October 2007 left school before October 2008 without completing a high school program. No measurable change was detected in the event dropout rate between 2007 and 2008 (3.5% in both years); however, since 1972, event dropout rates have trended downward, from 6.1% in 1972 to 3.5% in 2008.[1]
  • Event dropout by age: Students who pursued a high school education past the typical high school age were at higher risk than others of becoming an event dropout. The 2008 event dropout rates for students in the typical age range for fall high school enrollment (ages 15 through 17) were lower than those for older students (ages 20 through 24).
  • Status dropout rates: In October 2008, approximately 3.0 million 16- through 24-year-olds were not enrolled in high school and had not earned a high school diploma or alternative credential. These status dropouts accounted for 8.0% of the 38 million non-institutionalized, civilian 16- through 24-year-olds living in the United States.[2]
  • National averaged freshman graduation rate for public school students: The AFGR among public school students in the United States for the class of 2007–08 was 74.9%.[3]
  • Changes in AFGR rates from 2006–07 to 2007–08: The AFGR among public school students in the graduating class of 2007–08 was higher than the rate for the class of 2006–07 (74.9% vs. 73.9%).

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.


[1] The event dropout rate estimates the percentage of high school students who left high school between the beginning of one school year and the beginning of the next without earning a high school diploma or an alternative credential (e.g., a GED).

[2] The status dropout rate measures the percentage of individuals who are not enrolled in high school and who do not have a high school credential. The status dropout rate is higher than the event rate in a given year because the status dropout rate includes all dropouts in a particular age range, regardless of when or where they last attended school, including individuals who may have never attended school in the United States.

[3] The averaged freshman graduation rate (AFGR) provides an estimate of the percentage of public high school students who graduate on time—that is, 4 years after starting 9th grade—with a regular diploma. The rate uses aggregate student enrollment data to estimate the size of an incoming freshman class and aggregate counts of the number of diplomas awarded 4 years later. More details about how the rate is calculated is provided in the report.

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