High School Dropout
The high school dropout rate not only indicates the success of our school system; it forecasts possible problems to come. Virginia's dropout rate has declined in recent years. Due to the efforts of schools as well as outreach and GED attainment programs, the Commonwealth's rate is well below the national average.
Why is This Important?
The high school dropout rate is one measure of the success of our elementary and secondary educational systems. Moreover, because high school dropouts are at higher risk of unemployment and other social ills, dropout rates are a leading indicator of potential future problems. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2011 the national unemployment rate for those without a high school diploma was 5.3 percentage points higher than those who had graduated from high school.
How is Virginia Doing?
Based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Virginia's high school dropout rates have decreased in recent years, falling from 3.9 percent in 2000 to 2.5 percent in 2009; Virginia had the 14th lowest dropout rate in the country. Virginia's 2009 rate was also lower than the national rate of 4.1 percent and the rates of its peer states. Tennessee's dropout rate in 2009 was 3.2 percent, North Carolina was at 5.3 percent, and Maryland's rate was 3.0 percent. Wyoming had the lowest dropout rate in the nation in 2009 at 1.1 percent.
The Virginia Department of Education computes the high school dropout rate using a longitudinal method for tracking high school students (see Note below). The dropout rate is determined by dividing the number of dropouts over a four year period by the cohort of students for that time.
Dropout rates for 2012 were lower than 2011 for nearly all of Virginia's eight regions, with the statewide average decreasing from 7.2 percent to 6.5 percent. The Northern (5.8%), Central (6.3%), and Valley (6.3%) regions had dropout rates below the statewide average in 2012, while the Hampton Roads region (6.5%) matched it. The remaining 4 regions showed dropout rates above the statewide average: Eastern (7.9%), Southside (7.9%), West Central (7.3%) and Southwest (6.7%).
What Influences High School Dropout Rates?
One of the most significant factors influencing high school dropout rates is family income. According to the U.S. Department of Education, students from low-income families are six times more likely to drop out of high school than students from high-income families.
What is the State's Role?
Many of the most significant factors affecting dropout rates, like family income, are beyond the reach of the school system. State programs aimed at dealing with dropout issues generally take one of two forms:
- Preventive programs like Project Graduation that are designed to keep young people in school by identifying and helping students at risk of dropping out.
- Programs like Race to GED and the Virginia Community College System's Middle College, which "recover" dropouts by helping them get a GED.
State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.
Data Definitions and Sources
The National Center for Educational Statistics
provides state ranking rates derived from
the public school high school population
only (grades 9-12). The state ranking for
Vermont is missing.
(updated annually in May)
Data is for Event Dropouts, which is the percentage of public school students in grades 9-12 who dropped out of school in a given year.
Civic Enterprises, "The Silent Epidemic, Perspectives of High School Dropouts," March 2006 (pdf).
Virginia Department of Education, Virginia Cohort
(updated annually in November)
Virginia Department of Education, Frequently Asked Questions About High School Student Cohort Reports (pdf)
Who is a dropout?
Virginia has adopted the definition established by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). A dropout is an individual who:
- Was enrolled in school at some time during the previous school year but was not enrolled on October 1 of the current school year, OR
- Was not enrolled on October 1 of the previous school year although expected to be in membership; and
-- has not graduated from high school or completed a state- or district-approved educational program; and
-- does not meet any of the following exclusions:
- transfer to another public school district, private school, or state- or district-approved education program;
- temporary school-recognized absence due to suspension or illness;
Note: Virginia dropout and graduation rates are cohort rates (See High School Graduation, Data Definitions, for an explanation of cohort, event and status.). They look at what happens to a cohort of students -- those who started ninth grade together. The dropout rate is not simply one hundred minus the graduation rate. In addition to graduates and dropouts, a student cohort includes students who are still enrolled, students who completed high school with a GED or other state-recognized credential, and students on long-term medical leave.
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.