WASHINGTON — The percentage of students at public high schools who graduate on time has reached its highest level in nearly 40 years, according to the most recent federal government estimates released Tuesday.
Based on data collected from the states for the Class of 2010, the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that 78 percent of students earned a diploma within four years of starting high school. The graduation rate was last at that level in 1974, officials said.
High school graduation rates are one measure of school success, and educators and policymakers have been trying for decades to stem the number of US students who drop out of high school.
Notable in 2010 was the rise in the percentage of Hispanic students who graduate on time, with a 10-point jump over the past five years, to 71.4 percent. Hispanics are the nation’s largest minority group, making up more than 50 million people, or about 16.5 percent of the US population, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. One in four pupils at public elementary schools is Hispanic. Graduation rates improved for every race and ethnicity in 2010, but gaps among racial groups persist. Asian students had the highest graduation rate, with 93 percent of students finishing high school on time. White students followed with an 83 percent graduation rate, American Indians and Alaska Natives with 69.1 percent, and African-Americans with 66.1 percent.
High school graduation rates have a significant effect on the economy, according to a study last year by America’s Promise Alliance, a foundation created by Colin Powell. On average, high school graduates earn $130,000 more over their lifetimes than peers who drop out of school, the study said.