One bright spot from the research is that although students are taking longer to graduate, fewer are dropping out completely. The rate of "permanent dropouts," individuals who drop out of high school and never obtain a GED, has gone down. (Credit: iStockphoto)

Why rush? More students delay high school graduation

More students, particularly boys and minorities, are taking longer than the typical four years to graduate from high school, new research shows.

A study shows a growing trend of high school students graduating well after their 18th birthdays, and some as late as age 24. Although both men and women have shown overall declines in on-time graduation, men have experienced a much sharper decline than women. For minority groups, even fewer are graduating on time nationally.

“This is a national issue and the findings are significant because we used longitudinal data, unlike previous studies, and the result is a more true measurement of what age students are actually graduating,” says Jeounghee Kim, associate professor of social work at Rutgers. “Our conclusions highlight the importance of considering the timing of graduation when measuring the national graduation rate.”

Published in Education and Urban Society, the study shows that while graduation rates by age 18 declined, the rate by age 24 remained constant at around 80 percent.

Males and minorities take more time to obtain a high school degree among the more recent birth cohorts. On-time graduation for all students is below 70 percent and declined in general over the study period, with more individuals found to be graduating from high school between the ages of 19 and 24 in recent decades.

There has been a steep decline in young men’s on-time graduation rate, when compared to women. From the 1945-1949 to the 1980-1984 birth cohorts, men’s on-time graduation rate declined from 66.63 percent to 60.76 percent.

Fewer dropouts

Minorities are also taking more time to graduate. When graduation rate was measured by age 18, the racial difference was pronounced. For the 1980-1984 birth cohort, 71.1 percent of Caucasian students graduated, 56.50 percent of African-American students, and only 42.21 percent of Hispanic students.

One bright spot from the research is that although students are taking longer to graduate, fewer are dropping out completely. The rate of “permanent dropouts,” individuals who drop out of high school and never obtain a GED, has gone down.

“We see students taking longer to graduate, or dropping out and then coming back into high school and graduating later. Also, the rate of people who go on to obtain their GED has doubled. This combines to reduce the permanent dropout rate, which is a positive result,” says Myungkook Joo, assistant professor of social work.

Exit exams

More stringent graduation requirements may be a factor in later graduations, researchers say. Also, by 2006, two-thirds of the country’s high school students were required to pass exit exams to receive a high school diploma.

“In the early 1980s, states began to increase the number of courses required to graduate from high school.  At the same time, academic requirements for college admission have gone up higher for most college-bound students,” Kim says.

Currently the Department of Education calculates national graduation rates through the use of Common Core of Data (CCD) and Current Population Survey (CPS).

Both data sets have limitations. CCD assumes that most graduates obtain a high school diploma by age 18 and is limited to public school students. CPS counts GED holders as regular high school graduates, although research has found that GED is not a true equivalent of a regular high school diploma.

Joo and Kim used longitudinal data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), which provides demographic information and respondents’ educational history. SIPP, a survey collected by the US Census, makes it possible to observe the age respondents obtained a high school diploma and distinguishes GED holders from regular high school graduates.

Source: Rutgers

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  1. Julie Ali

    Another way to look at this trend is the delay in graduation is an opportunity to acquire a more balanced education. Really motivated students will continue to graduate in Alberta, Canada (where I live) in three years.
    My older son did in fact graduate in three years. But because he had taken other courses like construction and drama during these three years there were other hard science courses that we missed like Math 31 and physics 30. So he took an extra year to complete these courses and work full time at a job as well. The extra year can be seen as a waste of time or not. I think it was a valuable period of growth for my older son. He got to see what sort of jobs he would be working in without further education. He now is motivated to work hard at NAIT. The entry to NAIT (a vocational college) wasn’t something I had planned on but it will be useful again because he will work at jobs that he may or may not like. This will be a further indication to him that he might need to do more study.

    Everything is an opportunity.
    Delay is not the end of the world.
    Failure is just a step to success.
    You can in fact fail your entire life and still feel yourself a success.
    It is all in the way you think and the way you feel about yourself.

    In Alberta, I don’t think there are stringent requirements to graduate high school. There is a whole bunch of baloney of how advanced our education system is when in reality it isn’t that advanced at the public school level. We are missing critical skills that I think are soft skills that only the arts will teach our kids. My sons’ went to Strathcona Composite High which does an excellent job of balancing hard sciences with the arts.

    Balance is the way to go with education.
    You can’t do what the Harper government is fixated on doing with advanced education now. Encouraging everyone to get industry jobs is dumb. You need citizens who have broad backgrounds, who can think, who feel empathy for others. If the current system continues as it is going towards narrow skill sets, we will have Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and no sort of interesting human beings.

    I wasn’t thrilled about older boy taking an extra year to do more courses at the high school level but this “gap” year has been valuable. He has grown up so much. And he is extremely well prepared for school in the fall of this year.

    I also think that kids will be taking longer to do their university degrees as well as their high school diplomas.
    There are many ways to graduate from university today and kids who do double majors and successive degrees are well prepared for the world which is all about mutation now.

  2. davidjmcclelland

    My daughter takes college courses for free in High School. I would gladly let her delay graduation if the extra year(s) becomes a free associates degree and gets her BA in 2 years.

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