— After two years of consecutive declines and stagnation, high school graduation rates started to rise as the recent recession was hitting its depths, a new education analysis released Tuesday shows.
The national graduation rate reached 71.7 percent for the class of 2008—the highest level since the 1980s and the most recent year of data available.
From 2007, the year the recession began, to 2008, the overall graduation rate for public high school students jumped nearly 3 percentage points, researchers at Editorial Projects in Education, the parent company of Education Week, report in Diplomas Count 2011.
Despite indications of progress, however, nearly 1.2 million students from this year’s high school class will fail to graduate with a diploma, the analysis estimates. That amounts to 6,400 students lost each day of the year, or one student every 27 seconds.
That still-high failure rate leaves more than a million teenagers a year in a challenging position.
Looking at links between education, career, and earnings using data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, the researchers tracked how annual earnings increase significantly as workers acquire progressively higher levels of education, from high school dropout, to high school graduate, to any amount of subbaccalaureate education, to a four-year college degree.
A typical worker with at least a four-year college degree earns about $50,000 per year, compared with a median income of $30,000 among those with a two-year degree or subbaccalaureate education and about $18,500 for those with no more than a high school diploma. Despite those sizable average differences, there is considerable overlap across income distributions, particularly for those with a four-year degree and a lesser amount of postsecondary education.
That doesn’t apply to every career track, though. Nearly 30 percent of adults with only some postsecondary schooling have incomes at or above the median level of four-year-college graduates.
Analyzing the educational profiles of job-holders for 469 distinct occupations, the EPE researchers identified 50 in which a majority of workers had a subbaccalaureate level of schooling. Across those occupations, median annual incomes range from $18,000 for massage therapists to $73,000 for managers in the firefighting and fire-prevention field.
The Diplomas Count 2011 report explores how community colleges and other alternative subbaccalaureate paths are helping to expand the number of young adults with at least some post-secondary education, and how they are reaching students at the high-school level with new career-related programs.
It finds, however, that some states and districts continue to struggle more than others when it comes to getting students even beyond high school.
While graduation rates have risen in a majority of the states over the past decade, a 44-percentage-point chasm separates the highest- and lowest-performing states when it comes to graduation rates, the researchers found.
The national leaders—New Jersey, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin—each graduate more than 80 percent of their high school students. At the other extreme, fewer than six in 10 students finish high school in the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, and South Carolina.
Looking at the nation's 50 largest school districts, the analysis found graduation rates ranging from 33 percent to nearly 86 percent, with the rates in 39 of those largest districts falling below the national average. Urban districts occupy the lowest rungs on the 50-district ranking, often graduating no more than half their students. Montgomery County, Md., and Fairfax County, Va., in suburban Washington, rank first and second, respectively, with graduation rates topping 85 percent—more than 50 percentage points higher than lowest-ranked Detroit.