High school graduation

Percentage of ninth-grade cohort that graduates in four years.
The 2019 County Health Rankings used data from 2016-2017 for this measure.

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]

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 state-specific graduation data wherever it was available. Five states had no state-specific data sources available, and used the national data source, EDfacts.The remaining 45 states and the District of Columbia used local data.

This Measure Cannot Be Compared Across State Lines

In 2019, the data for this measure are primarily drawn from state-specific resources. 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, and 2019 Rankings. This year, due to suppression and boundary alignment problems with EDFacts data used previously, the County Health Rankings is gathering graduation rate data from state-specific datasets, rather than a single national dataset. Estimates from this year cannot be compared with earlier years of data.

Measure Limitations

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.[6] 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.[6]


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.

Data Source

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.

Digging Deeper

Subcounty Areatrue

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.


[1] Heckman JJ, Humphries JE, Veramendi G, Urzua SS. Education, health and wages. Nat Bur Econ Research. 2014: Working Paper No. 19971.
[2] Zajacova A, Everett BG. The nonequivalent health of high school equivalents. Soc. Sci. Q. 2014;95:221-238.
[3] Ma J, Pender M, Welch M. Education pays 2016. The College Board. 2016.
[4] 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.
[5] Zimmerman EB, Woolf SH, Haley A. Understanding the relationship between education and health: A review of the evidence and an examination of community perspectives. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, National Institutes of Health; 2015: AHRQ Publication No. 15-0002.

[6] Murnane, RL. U.S. high school graduation rates: Patterns and explanations. Nat Bur Econ Research. 2013: Working Paper No. 18701.

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