Diplomas Count 2011 Briefing Overview: Grad Rates Rise, but Over One Million Still Drop Out

On June 7, 2011, Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) released Diplomas Count 2011: Beyond High School, Before Baccalaureate—Meaningful Alternatives to a Four-Year Degree. This edition, the sixth in the annual series by the publisher of Education Week, follows previous versions of Diplomas Count by reporting graduation rates throughout the nation, but also has a special focus on the space between high school graduation and a four-year college education. First, the good news: The nation’s graduation rate has increased to almost 72 percent following two years of decline and is at the highest level since the late 1980s.[1] Graduation rate improvements have been broad-based and several states—New Jersey, Vermont, Wisconsin, and North Dakota—are well above the national average, with more than 80% of students graduating from high school. Now, the bad news: 1.2 million high school students nationally still fail to earn diplomas. One in five of these non-completers are from 25 urban districts throughout the nation. Additionally, racial and gender disparities in graduation rates still exist, though there has been a narrowing of the Black-White achievement gap. After Christopher B. Swanson, vice president of EPE, and Amy Hightower, Director of the EPE Research Center, shared the highlights of Diplomas Count 2011, the majority of the event focused on the multiple postsecondary pathways that exist for students beyond high school graduation, including the notion that students may be best served with a variety of pathways to postsecondary education. Discussions also centered on whether the “college-for-all” model—especially the traditional four-year college model—is really what all students need. Below are a handful of key points from the presenters:
  • Ronald Ferguson, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University and co-author of the report Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century, noted that more time and effort is needed to illuminate multiple postsecondary pathways for students, starting as early as elementary school, to allow them to develop multiple images of possible selves.
  • Amy Wilkins, Vice President for Government Affairs and Communications at the Education Trust, indicated that now is not the time to stop pushing students to aspire to four-year degrees, especially students of color and low income.
  • Jerry D. Weast, Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools (Maryland), spoke about the need for institutionalizing college readiness for all students. Weast, whose district topped the rankings for the third year in a row, emphasized promoting student engagement and holding all students to high expectations.
  • Kevin Carey, Policy Director at Education Sector, noted that while the push may not be “college for all,” there is definitely a need for “college for more” to support national economic sustainability and viability.
  • Clarice A. Somersall, Special Assistant to the Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Services at Montgomery College, stressed the importance of building partnerships all the way through the education pipeline from K-12 to postsecondary options, including community colleges and four-year institutions.
  • Joel Vargas, Vice President of the “High School through College” team at Jobs for the Future, emphasized the importance of stronger routes to degrees and credentials for high school graduates. Enabling students to get college credit before graduating from high school, he noted, is one way in which students can build their college readiness.
An archived video recording of the event and slides are available on Education Week’s Web site. Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

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