2016 Building a Grad Nation Data Brief

OVERVIEW OF 2013-14 HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION RATES

The Building a Grad Nation Data Brief highlights state high school graduation rate trends, with a focus on the graduation rates for key groups of students. For the first time, the Data Brief includes 50 state reports detailing graduation rate progress. A precursor to the annual Building a Grad Nation Report, the Data Brief is co-authored by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Education in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Release Date: 

01/21/16

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Continuing a nearly decade-long upward trend, the nation’s on-time high school graduation rate hit a record high of 82.3 percent for the Class of 2014. This is a tremendous milestone.

But two issues mar the achievement. First, for the first time in four years, the nation is not on track to reach its goal of a 90 percent on-time graduation rate by 2020. The rate needs to increase by 1.3 percentage points to remain on track; this year’s increase was .9 percentage points.

Second, in spite of significant increases for some groups, the nation continues to suffer from severe gaps in graduation rates affecting students of color, students from low-income families, students with disabilities and English-language learners.

  • 33 states graduate less than 70 percent of their students with disabilities; six of those states graduate less than 50 percent of students with disabilities.
  • 11 states graduate less than 70 percent of Hispanic/Latino students.
  • 17 states graduate less than 70 percent of African American students.
  • 16 states graduate less than 70 percent of low-income students. In those states, researchers estimate that nearly 191,000 low-income students did not graduate on time with a regular diploma.
  • 35 states graduate less than 70 percent of English-language learners; seven of those states have ELL graduation rates under 50 percent.
  • 10 states graduate less than 70 percent of all five subgroups. They are Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington.

The Data Brief keeps pace with the release of graduation rate data by the National Center for Education Statistics and lays a foundation for the more comprehensive analysis in the annual Building a Grad Nation Report to be published in spring 2016.



  • Iowa became the first state to pass the 90 percent goal with a 90.5 percent graduation rate.
  • 29 states in all equaled or exceeded the national average of 82.3 percent.
  • 15 states have graduation rates between 70 and 80 percent.
  • New Mexico, the lowest ranking state, remains more than 13 points behind the national average with 68.5 percent of students graduating.


States leading the way (2014 ACGR)

Rank State Percentage
1. Iowa 90.5%
2. Nebraska 89.7%
3. Wisconsin 88.6%
4. New Jersey 88.6%
5. Texas 88.3%
6. New Hampshire 88.1%
7. Indiana 87.9%
8. Vermont 87.8%
9. Kentucky 87.8%
10. Missouri 87.3%

States in the biggest trouble (2014 ACGR)

Rank State Percentage
1. New Mexico 68.5%
2. Nevada 70%
3. Alaska 71.1%
4. Oregon 72.0%
5. Georgia 72.5%
6. Louisiana 74.6%
7. Arizona 75.7%
8. Florida 76.1%
9. Idaho 77.3%
10. Colorado 77.3%

  • The number of dropout factories – low-performing schools that promote less than 60 percent of students from 9th to 12th grade – and the number of students attending these schools have declined. There are now about 1,000 of these schools, compared to 2,000 in 2002. About 1 million students attend these schools, at least 1.6 million fewer than in 2002.
  • Six states increased their graduation rates by six points or more in the past four years. In three states, graduation rates have declined over the past four years.



  • Nationally, 89 percent of non-low-income students graduate on time compared to 74.6 percent of low-income students – a 14.4 percentage point gap.
  • The graduation gap between low-income and non-low-income students ranges from a high of 25.6 percentage points in South Dakota to a low of 4 percentage points in Indiana.
  • 15 states graduate less than 70 percent of their low-income students.

Biggest gaps between low-income and non-low-income students (2014 ACGR)

Rank State LI/NLI ACGR Gap % Cohort Low-Income
1. South Dakota 25.6 32%
2. Colorado 23.7 45%
3. Minnesota 23.6 35%
4. Michigan 22.8 43%
5. Wyoming 21.9 39%
6. Rhode Island 21.8 55%
7. Washington 21.2 46%
8. Ohio 20.9 40%
9. North Dakota 20.5 26%
10. Alaska 18.9 39%

Smallest gaps between low-income and non-low-income students (2014 ACGR)

Rank State LI/NLI ACGR Gap % Cohort Low-Income
1. Indiana 4.0 36%
2. Texas 6.2 50%
3. Kentucky 7.2 51%
4. Hawaii 7.7 46%
5. Oklahoma 8.2 45%
6. Arkansas 8.4 50%
7. Arizona 9.6 39%
8. Alabama 9.9 51%
9. Iowa 10.4 39%
10. North Carolina 10.5 44%


  • 72.5 percent of African American students graduated in 2014.
  • African American students have exceeded the national rate of improvement, making yearly gains averaging more than 1.3 percentage points since 2011.
  • The gap between graduating White and African American students is 14.7 percentage points.
  • 17 states graduate less than 70 percent of their African American students.


  • 76.3 percent of Hispanic/Latino students graduated in 2014.
  • Hispanic/Latino students have exceeded the national rate of improvement, making yearly gains averaging more than 1.3 percentage points since 2011.
  • The gap between graduating White and Hispanic/Latino students is 10.9 percentage points.
  • 11 states graduate less than 70 percent of their Hispanic/Latino students.


  • Nationally students without identified disabilities graduate at a rate of 84.8 percent, compared with just 63.1 percent of students with disabilities – a gap of more than 21 percentage points.
  • 33 states graduate less than 70 percent of their students with disabilities; seven of those states graduate less than 50 percent of students with disabilities.



For the release of the 2016 Building a Grad Nation data brief , we are encouraging conversation about the progress we are making and the urgent work that remains. Please join the conversation by using the hashtag #GradNation.

Help spread the word (just click to launch and edit it in Twitter):

JUST RELEASED: Download the 2016 Building a #GradNation Data Brief by @CivicEnterprise & Everyone Graduates Center. http://bit.ly/1nxXYaq



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About GradNation: The GradNation campaign – led by America’s Promise Alliance, the Alliance for Excellent Education, Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University – mobilizes individuals and organizations to raise the on-time high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020, with no school graduating fewer than 80 percent of its students on time. GradNation also aims for dramatic increases in postsecondary enrollment and graduation.

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