Although the dropout rate has declined for decades, millions didn’t complete high school in 2020


In 2020, some 2 million American students between 16 to 24 years of age dropped out of school, according to federal data.

Despite the large number, the drop-out rate had actually declined from 10 years before, meaning a lower percentage of students were considered dropouts than in 2010.

The report measures the “status dropout rate,” defined as “the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in high school and who lack a high school credential.”

For 2020, the status dropout rate was 5.3, meaning that 5.3 percent of people in that age bracket were not attending school and lacked a high school equivalent credential, such as a GED.

But compare that to 2010, when the status dropout rate was 7.4 percent among of those aged 16 to 24.

A previous edition of the report from 2012 noted that the status dropout rate from 1990 to 2010 also decreased, which indicates the percentage of students in the same age bracket who did not attend high school or hold a high school equivalent credential has been decreasing for 20 years.

In 1990, the status dropout rate was 12 percent. However, the reports do not articulate or speculate about what led to that decline.

The report also notes that the “status dropout rates in 2019 — the year before the coronavirus pandemic began — did not measurably differ from the rates in 2020 for any racial/ethnic group.”

The report is based on data from the Current Population Survey within the U.S. Census Bureau, which  includes only information about the “noninstitutionalized population,” meaning the data excludes people who are incarcerated or living in nursing facilities.

Rates changes reflected demographic differences. For example, in 2020 the status dropout rate for males was 6.2 percent while the rate for females was 4.4 percent.

As for race and ethnicity, most of the main categories identified in the report saw decreases in the rate of status dropouts, but some more than others.

In 2020, the status dropout rate for Hispanic individuals was 7.4 percent — a significant percentage drop from 10 years earlier, when it applied to 15.1 percent of Hispanic students.

Black individuals also had a lower percentage of dropouts over the past decade. In 2020, the status dropout rate for Black people was 4.2 percent, compared to 8.0 percent in 2010.

White individuals had a status dropout rate of 4.8 in 2020, down from 5.1 percent in 2010. And for Asian individuals, it was just 2.4 percent, down from 4.1 percent in 2010.

The report says that the status dropout rates in the white and Asian categories were “not measurably different from 2010 to 2020.”

State laws vary

The age at which a student can drop out of school varies from state to state. Currently, Florida law permits a student as young as 16 to drop out with parental consent.

A bill introduced during the 2022 state legislative session aimed to raise the age of compulsory school attendance from 16 to 18 years old, but the measure did not make it through session.

The Condition of Education report contains annual data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics within the U.S. Department of Education.

The center released the report in June to capture what’s going in the U.S. education system through statistics and analyses. The education data draw upon federal sources such as the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Census, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


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Natasha M. McKnight

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