Graduation Rates

“One of the challenges that Minnesota is going to face in the next decade or two is what appears to be right now a substantial achievement gap in high school graduation rates. In the 1960s, less than 50 percent of the people of working age had a high school degree. Now more than 91 percent do. Unfortunately, if you break that down and look at it by racial and ethnic composition, you see that the fastest growing part of our working-age population — young Hispanics and Afro-Americans, young American Indians and young Asians — don’t have graduation rates that are anywhere near that level. And in an increasingly competitive global economy, people that don’t have a high school degree are going to be forced to compete with people in other countries for employment.”

Tom Stinson, Minnesota State Economist
November 2007, Minnpost


May 2013 – Nation’s Graduation Rate Nears a Milestone – New analysis from Education Research Center shows the nation’s “graduation rate, which has risen nearly 2 full percentage points from the previous year and 8 points in the past decade, has reached its highest point since 1973.”

 Related report – Diplomas Count 2013: Second Chances


March 2012 – Building a Grad Nation Report: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic – Minnesota’s graduation rate grew by 3.5 percent from 83.9% to 87.4% from 2002 to 2009, making Minnesota one of six “role model” states. Minnesota is now tied with North Dakota at 87.3%, with only Wisconsin and Vermont graduating a higher percentage of their high school students. Only two states with graduation rates above 80% gained at a higher rate: Wisconsin and Vermont. The report also highlights two Minnesota programs, the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota and the Minnesota Reading Corps, America’s Promise Alliance (Growth & Justice article).

November 2010 – Minnesota High School Graduate Numbers Peaked Last Year – The number of high school graduates in Minnesota is projected to decline over the next seven years from 65,073 in 2010 to 59,727 by 2017, a drop of 5,346 students. From 2017 to 2023 the number of graduates is expected to increase slightly, but will remain below the 2010 number of graduates for the state. Students of color will comprise a larger share of high school graduates in the future. The number of nonwhite graduates is projected to grow by 4,713 students, from 16 percent of all graduates in 2010 to 23 percent of all graduates in 13 years. During the same period, the number of white graduates is projected to decline 12 percent, or by 6,511 students, Minnesota State Demographic Center and Office of Higher Education.

September 2010 – Minnesota Transitions to New Graduation Rates – Beginning with the summer 2012 Annual Report Cards, Minnesota Department of Education (2009 Graduation Rates—using the new indicators).

July 2009 (Updated) – Understanding High School Graduation Rates in Minnesota – Minnesota has a 40% Black-White Graduation Rate Gap (NCES Common Core of Data, 2002-03 and 2003-04), Alliance for Excellent Education (State Profiles Sources and Notes).

This policy brief takes Minnesota to task for:

  1. Not basing AYP Calculations on the National Governors Association’s “Compact rate” adopted by the NGA in 2005.  Minnesota’s graduation rate calculation is based on the Common Core of Data Graduation Leaver Indicator recommended by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) at the time Minnesota’s accountability system was being put together.  Minnesota did begin reporting the NGA Compact rate in 2006.
  2. Not setting the bar at 100%—Minnesota requires a graduation rate of at least 80%, a standard currently achieved by only 15 states in the nation.
  3. Allowing high schools to meet AYP by making “any measurable improvement” in graduation rates (defined as .1% (0.0010) in the 2007 NCLB Calculations Functional Requirements Specification (Updated July 25, 2007).
  4. And, finally, for not using subgroup graduation rates for AYP. This, while true on the surface, is technically not the case since graduation rates are disaggregated for purposes of Safe Harbor—one of the early steps on the path to NCLB doom.

That being said,

How to calculate graduation rates isn’t settled.  There’s something to be said for taking into consideration the efforts of students continuing their education (March 2008, Snapshots on Minnesota Youth, below).

Minnesota has been raising expectations for students by:

  • establishing rigorous academic standards
  • requiring passage of the academic standard tests for graduation (Minnesota is one of only 23 states nationwide that requires all students to pass an exit exam for graduation) [Note: The math graduation requirement was deferred to after the 2013-2014 school year in the 2009 Legislative Session. ] and
  • setting more rigorous course requirements than most other states
Required Credits  


U.S. Avg

Mathematics 3 2.8
English/language arts 4 3.9
Science 3 2.5
History/social studies 3.5 2.8
Other credits 8 8.3
Total Credits Required: 21.5 20.6

June 5, 2009 – Graduation Requirement Results – 10th-grade reading and 11th-grade math MCA-II results released, both show improvement, Minnesota Department of Education.

June 5, 2009 – Latest school test scores show improvements – More than half of all high school juniors in Minnesota met the state’s new requirements on a math graduation test that had many worried about whether they’d graduate, Minnesota Public Radio.

June 18, 2008 – ‘Diploma Counts’ Brings Clarity to Achievement Gap, Education Needs – The key to Minnesota’s future is an effective workforce. The key to creating this workforce is education, and a quality education requires coordination between early education, K-12 and higher education institutions. It also requires a cure for the achievement gap, which keeps a quality education away from some students, Minnesota 2020.June 4, 2008 – Study: Minn. ranks at bottom for black graduation rate – A new study of nationwide graduation rates shows Minnesota now ranks last among the states for the percent of black students that get high school diplomas. The rate declined by nearly 10 percent between 2002 and 2005, the last year for which data is available, Minnesota Public Radio.June 4, 2008 – Minnesota’s graduation rate is among highest in the United States – At a time when educators nationwide are working to improve graduation rates by raising the mandatory school attendance age, a new study shows that Minnesota’s graduation rate is among the highest in the country…. The study also confirms the education chasm between Minnesota’s white and minority students. Smaller percentages of minority students graduate from high school than the national average, Star Tribune.
Minnesota has fallen from 31st in the nation in 2002 to
37th in the percentage of black high school students
earning diplomas. (MPR Graphic/Than Tibbetts)
June 4, 2008 – Diplomas Count 2008: Minnesota State Profile – Reports a 12 point discrepancy between the state-reported 90.1% graduation rate and the 78.1% rate based on the NCLB recommended CPI calculation; compares the two graduation rate calculation methods, Education Week.June 4, 2008 – Diplomas Count 2008 (Main Page) – Examines states’ efforts to forge stronger connections between precollegiate and postsecondary education, Education Week.

Minnesota Graduation Profile for the Class of 2005:
[NCLB Recommended Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI)]

Graduation Rate by Student Group

 Minnesota State Average

National Average 



All Students 78.1 70.6
By Gender      
Male 77.3 67.8
Female 81.2 75.3
By Race and Ethnicity    
American Indian/Alaska Native 40.5 50.6
Asian/Pacific Islander 69.9 81.3
Hispanic 41.9 57.8
Black (not Hispanic) 38.8 55.3
White (not Hispanic) 83.3 77.6
By Gender and Race and Ethnicity    
Male American Indian/Alaska Native 36.6 45.8
Asian/Pacific Islander 63.3 77.5

Black (not Hispanic) 36.2 48.2
White (not Hispanic) 81.1 74.3
Female American Indian/Alaska Native 42.7 52.5
Asian/Pacific Islander 73.0 82.8
Hispanic 48.9 62.7
Black (not Hispanic) 45.5 61.3
White (not Hispanic) 85.0 79.8

‡ Value not reported because of insufficient data for reliable estimate.

April 2008 – Cities in Crisis: A Special Analytic Report on High School Graduation – Minneapolis ranked 45th out of the Nation’s 50 Largest Cities; 17 percent graduation rate gap between urban core and surrounding suburbs, America’s Promise Alliance/EPE Research Center.

March 2008 – Snapshots on Minnesota Youth: Graduation Rates – The graduation rate in 2006-07 was 73 percent, calculated as the number of 9th graders enrolled in any school who four years later graduated. Of that same student population, 6.5 percent dropped-out and 14 percent were continuing their high school education beyond four years. Data is missing or unknown for the remaining 6.6% of students, Minnesota Department of Public Safety and Minnesota Department of Education.

With the exception of Asian/Pacific Islander students who have a graduation rate of 67.4 percent, the graduation rate for minority students is slightly less than 40 percent. American Indian, Hispanic, and African American students are continuing their high school education beyond four years with rates of 27.4 percent, 24.0 percent and 35.1 percent, respectively.

June 2007 – Diplomas Count: Ready for What? Preparing for College, Careers, and Life After High School – To earn a decent wage in the United States, young people need to anticipate completing at least some college (Minnesota State Graduation Brief – Minnesota high school graduation rates using the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI)), Education Week.

September 2006 – Minnesota Education Trends, 2000 to 2005 – Elementary enrollments declining, diversifying; high school graduation rates rise slightly, gaps in graduation rates by race and ethnicity remain large, Minnesota State Demographic Center.

May 2005 – Postsecondary Expectations and Minnesota’s Graduation Requirements – Compares Minnesota’s high school graduation requirements to Minnesota’s postsecondary requirements and national research-based recommendations, Minnesota Department of Education.



April 2011 – Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation – Children who have lived in poverty and are not reading proficiently in 3rd Grade are three times more likely to dropout or fail to graduate from High School than those who have never been poor, Annie E. Casey Foundation.

November 30, 2010 – Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic – The U.S. graduation rate increased from 72 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2008. The report reveals that the number of “dropout factory” high schools fell by 13 percent – from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,746 in 2008. While these schools represent a small fraction of all public high schools in America, they account for about half of all high school dropouts each year. Experts say targeting these high schools for improvement is a critical part of turning around the nation’s dropout rate, America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, (Executive Summary; Full Report).

“Minnesota, in part because our graduation rate already was one of the highest,
was cited among about a third of states that had made “some progress.”
—Dane Smith, Growth & Justice

Civic Marshall Plan to Build a Grad Nation
Just as Secretary of State George C. Marshall launched a plan to rebuild Europe after World War II, we must rebuild our broken school system. We are launching a “Civic Marshall Plan,” comprising policymakers, educators, business leaders, community allies, parents and students to address the dropout epidemic by focusing on the dropout factory high schools and their feeder elementary and middle schools. In tune with the call from President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earlier this year to increase the U.S. graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020, we are working to mobilize Americans to quicken the pace. To reach these national goals, the graduation rate must rise by an average of 1.5 percentage points per year over the next decade. The Civic Marshall Plan outlines the benchmarks to ensure the attainment of those goals, and focuses on the strategic deployment of human resources to help school districts and states accelerate improvement.

Other highlights of the report:

  • More than half of all states – 29 in total – increased their statewide graduation rate from 2002 to 2008.
  • The state of Tennessee and New York City led the nation by boosting graduation rates 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
  • Most of the decline in dropout factories – 216 of the 261 – occurred in the South.
  • Four inspiring case studies in Alabama, New York City, Tennessee and Richmond, Indiana.

October 2008 – Counting on Graduation: An Agenda for State Leadership – The United States is the only industrialized country in the world in which today’s young people are less likely than their parents to have completed high school, Education Trust.

February 2006 – The Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion from High School Through College – Academic Intensity Still Matters Most – 95% of students who completed the following courses in high school earned bachelor’s degrees, 41% also earned master’s, first professional, or doctoral degrees,  U.S. Department of Education.

  • 3.75 or more courses, English
  • 3.75 or more courses, mathematics; highest mathematics of either calculus, precalculus, or trigonometry
  • 2.5 or more courses, science or more than 2.0 credits of core laboratory science (biology, chemistry, and physics)
  • more than 2.0 courses, foreign languages
  • more than 2.0 courses, history and social studies
  • 1.0 or more courses, computer science
  • more than one Advanced Placement course
  • no remedial English; no remedial mathematics

July 2005 – Graduation Counts: A Compact on State High School Graduation Data – An agreement to implement the following recommendations, National Governor’s Association:

  • begin implementing a standard four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate;
  • lead efforts to improve state data collection, reporting and analysis, and link data systems across the entire education pipeline from preschool through postsecondary education;
  • take steps to implement additional indicators that provide richer information and understanding about outcomes for students and how well the system is serving them; and
  • report annual progress on the improvement of their state high school graduation, completion and dropout rate data.

2005 – Graduation Counts: A Report of the NGA Task Force on State High School Graduation Data – Outlines five task force recommendations states should use to develop a high-quality, comparable high school graduation measure, as well as complementary indicators of student progress and outcomes and data systems capable of collecting, analyzing and reporting the data, National Governor’s Association.

October 2004 – Crisis at the Core: Preparing All Students for College and Work, concludes, “The more courses students take and the more challenging those courses, the more likely these students will be college ready and will persist to a college degree,” ACT Newsroom.