Graduations on the Rise
14 Desember 2017

In his 2009 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama challenged Americans to “commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training…. Every American,” he said, “will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country.” During most of the last century, steady increases in the proportion of the labor force that had graduated from high school fueled the nation’s economic growth and rising incomes. The high school graduation rate for teenagers in the United States rose from 6 percent to 80 percent from 1900 to 1970. By the late 1960s, the U.S. ranked first among countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on this measure of educational attainment.

Between 1970 and 2000, however, the U.S. high-school graduation stagnated while in many other OECD countries it rose markedly. By 2000, the high school graduation rate in the United States ranked 13th among the 19 OECD countries for which comparable data are available.

Until quite recently, it appeared that this long stagnation had continued into the 21st century. Yet evidence from two independent sources now shows that, in fact, the graduation rate increased substantially between 2000 and 2010. The improvements were especially pronounced among blacks and Hispanics, who have long been far less likely to complete high school than their white peers.

Yet despite these encouraging trends, substantial graduation-rate gaps along lines of race, income, and gender persist. Moreover, graduation rates in other OECD countries also increased in the past decade. As a result, the U.S. high school graduation rate in 2010 was still below the OECD average.

What might explain these patterns in American graduation rates? Researchers from several social science disciplines have studied teenagers’ decisions about whether to persist in high school and earn a diploma. Sociologists tend to emphasize the roles of peer groups and school cultures. Many psychologists have examined teenagers’ decisions from a developmental perspective, recently enriched by evidence from neuroscience on brain development and the attraction of risk-taking during the teenage years. Ethnographers from various disciplines point out that for many youth, dropping out is a process rather t