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America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016

High School Completion

Attainment of a high school diploma or its equivalent is an indicator that a person has acquired the basic academic skills needed to function in today's society. The percentage of young adults ages 18–24 with a high school diploma or an equivalent credential is a measure of the extent to which young adults have completed a basic prerequisite for many entry-level jobs and for higher education. Persons with higher levels of education tend to have better economic outcomes than their peers with lower levels of education.66

Figure 24: Percentage of young adults ages 18–24 who have completed high school by race and Hispanic origin, 1980–2014
Percentage of young adults ages 18–24 who have completed high school by race and Hispanic origin, 1980–2014

NOTE: From 1980 to 1991, high school completion was measured by the completion of 4 years of high school rather than the actual attainment of a high school diploma or equivalent. Diploma equivalents include alternative credentials obtained by passing exams such as the General Educational Development (GED) test. Data on race and Hispanic origin are collected separately and combined for reporting according to the 1997 Office of Management and Budget Standards for Data on Race and Ethnicity. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, School Enrollment Supplement.

  • In 2014, 92 percent of young adults ages 18–24 had completed high school with a diploma or an alternative credential, such as a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. The high school completion rate has increased from 84 percent in 1980.
  • The high school completion rate for Black, non-Hispanic young adults increased from 75 percent in 1980 to 92 percent in 2014. Among White, non-Hispanic young adults, this rate increased from 87 percent in 1980 to 94 percent in 2014. While the high school completion rate for Hispanic young adults has consistently been lower during this period than for their White, non-Hispanic and Black, non-Hispanic peers, the rate for Hispanic young adults increased 30 percentage points between 1980 and 2014, from 57 percent to 87 percent.
  • High school completion rates increased between 2003 (when separate data became available for all race groups) and 2014 for Asian, non-Hispanic young adults (from 95 to 99 percent) and non-Hispanic young adults of two or more races (from 92 to 97 percent). During this period, the completion rates also increased for young adults who were Hispanic (from 69 to 87 percent); Black, non-Hispanic (from 85 to 92 percent); and White, non-Hispanic (from 92 to 94 percent). In contrast, 2014 completion rates for non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native (79 percent) and Pacific Islander young adults (99 percent) were not statistically different from the rates in 2003.
  • In 2014, the high school completion rate was higher for non-Hispanic young adults who were White (94 percent), Asian (99 percent), and of two or more races (97 percent) than for those who were Black, non-Hispanic (92 percent); Hispanic (87 percent); and American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic (79 percent). The completion rate was also higher for Black, non-Hispanic young adults than for their Hispanic and American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic peers.

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66 Kena, G., Hussar, W., deBrey, C., Musu-Gillette, L., Wang, X., Zhang, J., . . . & Dunlop Velez, E. (2015). The Condition of Education 2016 (NCES Publication No. 2016-144). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics website.