High school graduation

High School Graduation is the percentage of the ninth-grade cohort in public schools that graduates from high school in four years. Please note this measure was modified in the 2011, 2012, and 2014 Rankings.

Measure Tabs

Reason for Ranking

Completing more education is associated with being less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise, as well as better physical health and self-reported health.[1-3] Adults that are more educated are more often employed and tend to earn more than their less educated counterparts.[3] A 1-point increase in high school GPA raises annual earnings in adulthood by about 12% in males and nearly 14% in females.[4]

Graduating with a high school diploma is associated with health benefits when compared to those that earn a Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED), where GED earners are about twice as likely to have worse self-reported health and physical limitations.[2]

It is important to note, as rates of high school and college completion are increasing, there are growing race/ethnicity gaps in educational attainment. From 1995 to 2015, the percentage of female adults, age 25 to 29 who completed at least a bachelor’s degree went from 14% to 24% for blacks, 10% to 18% for Hispanics, and 28% to 45% in whites. And from 1995 to 2015, the percentage of male adults, age 25 to 29 who completed at least a bachelor’s degree went from 14% to 19% for blacks, 7% to 13% for Hispanics, and 27% to 38% in whites. However, college enrollment race/ethnicity gaps are decreasing. In 2005, white recent high school graduates were 11 percentage points more likely to enroll in college than their black and Hispanic peers. In 2015, these gaps had decreased to 8 percentage points for black and 5 percentage points for Hispanic students.[3]

Measurement Strengths and Limitations

A strength of cohort graduation rates is that they generally only include 4-year graduates with a high school diploma in the numerator. Cohort graduation rates are also able to account for transfers, dropouts, emigrants, etc.

Cohort graduation rates also have several limitations. First, there are differences across states and even schools in determining whether a student is a transfer or a dropout, and this can substantially affect graduation rates because dropouts are still included in a graduation cohort, but transfers are not.[5] Second, there are different rules applied to certain student groups (e.g. incarcerated students, special need students) at some schools; for instance, they may be excluded from the cohort, included in the cohort but given longer to graduate, or included in the cohort with no special considerations. Third, some states include online schools, but students do not necessarily reside in the same county as the online school’s mailing address, so there are problems with assigning an online school to a specific county. Finally, schools which have a large proportion of their cohort as transfer students generally have a disadvantage in terms of graduation rates, as these students may be lacking requirements for their new school.[5]

While there is debate on whether education is the cause of improvements in health, or if they are merely associated with one another,[1,6] a comprehensive review suggests that education impacts health by improving cognitive skills, problem solving, and diverse personality traits.[7]