The Changing Face of America’s High School Dropouts

Payton Alexander Education

Fewer students are dropping out of high school today than in generations past, and that is cause for celebration.  This is particularly true for Hispanic students, whose dropout rate has fallen dramatically to just under 12 percent. However this trend masks a disturbing reality.  Despite accounting for only 21.1 percent of the population (ages 16-24), Hispanics now account for almost half of all high school dropouts.  Even though America’s high school dropout problem is getting better, it increasingly has a Hispanic face.

Over the past four decades, the federal and state governments have poured billions of tax dollars into the nation’s public school system in an attempt to improve educational outcomes, with little meaningful effect on student test scores or grades.  The public sector in education, as in every other industry, continues to stagnate and disappoint those it is meant to serve.  While high school dropout rates are falling, and have been for some time, this improvement has not been felt equally by all groups.  In this graphic from The LIBRE Institute, the share of Hispanics ages 16-24 who are dropouts is compared with the share of dropouts who are Hispanic, from 1972-2012, using data from the National Center for Education Statistics.


If the benefits of falling dropout rates were accrued equally among all groups over this period, we should expect the dark-blue line to track closely with the Hispanic share of the general population.  However, this has not been the case.  In 1972, Hispanics made up 5.4 percent of the 16-24 population, but 12.8 percent of the dropout population – a significant disparity.  On the other hand, Hispanics account for 21.1 percent of this age bracket in 2012, but 40.6 percent of the dropout population.  At both ends of the period under consideration, Hispanics are doubly overrepresented in the dropout population.  In 2013, the high Hispanic dropout rate remained as high as 11.7 percent; worse than any other group in America.

Now more than ever, the problem of high school dropouts is a Hispanic issue.  That’s why The LIBRE Institute has launched a new program to help Hispanic adults without high school diplomas get the accreditation they need to succeed: the High School Diploma Initiative.  Through the High School Diploma Initiative, selected students will receive access to an online prep course and a voucher to take the GED exam.  Education is one of the four pillars of The LIBRE Institute, and through the High School Diploma Initiative, LIBRE is helping Hispanics gain access to a high school education which will open the door to more jobs and greater opportunity to climb the economic ladder.

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