High school graduation*
Percentage of ninth-grade cohort that graduates in four years.
The 2021 County Health Rankings used data from 2017-2018 for this measure.
Reason for Including
Education is an important predictor of health. 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. A 1-point increase in high school GPA raises annual earnings in adulthood by about 12% in males and nearly 14% in females.
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.
It is important to note, as rates of high school and college completion are increasing, there are growing race/ethnicity gaps in educational attainment over the past 20 years. 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.
Key Measure Methods
High School Graduation is a Percentage
High School Graduation is the percentage of the ninth-grade cohort that graduates from high school in four years.
High School Graduation Uses State-Specific Data Sources
In order to provide the most current and accurate graduation data available, we use a combination of state-specific and national graduation data. State-specific graduation data was used for states with high rates of suppression in the national data. The remaining states were calculated using the national data source, EDFacts.
This Measure Cannot Be Compared Across State Lines
In 2020, the data for this measure are drawn from a combination of state-specific and a national source. Definitions of cohorts and graduates, and suppression criteria may vary from state to state resulting in non-comparable estimates from state to state.
The Method for Calculating High School Graduation has Changed
Please note this measure was modified in the 2011, 2012, 2014, 2019, and 2020 Rankings. Beginning in 2019, the priority was to use state-specific data for states where there were many missing counties in the national dataset. Estimates from this year should be compared with caution to previous years. When comparing across years, ensure that the source remained the same.
High School Graduation has 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. 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.
The numerator is the number of cohort members who earned a regular high school diploma by the end of the school year.
The denominator is the number of first-time 9th graders four years prior to graduation, plus students who transferred in, minus students who transferred out, emigrated, or died during school years.
Can This Measure Be Used to Track Progress
County Health Rankings high school graduation data should not be used to measure progress. Local data sources are more appropriate for measuring progress given the substantial measure changes overtime.
Years of Data Used
Beginning with the 2010-2011 school-year, states have been required to submit cohort graduation rates to the federal government. These data have been made available to the public on EDFacts. Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates at the Local Education Agency (school district) level from EDFacts data were used for all states except Hawaii, where school level data were used.
This data is available from EDFacts and can be stratified by school district, race or poverty status where the population is big enough.
Most states maintain extensive websites of graduation rates. You can find links to these reports in State-Specific Data Sources.
 Heckman JJ, Humphries JE, Veramendi G, Urzua SS. Education, health and wages. Nat Bur Econ Research. 2014: Working Paper No. 19971.
 Zajacova A, Everett BG. The nonequivalent health of high school equivalents. Soc. Sci. Q. 2014;95:221-238.
 Ma J, Pender M, Welch M. Education pays 2016. The College Board. 2016.
 French MT, Homer JF, Popovici I, Robins PK. What you do in high school matters: High school GPA, educational attainment, and labor market earnings as a young adult. East. Econ. J. 2015;41:370-386.