High School Completion
dropout risk (early warning indicators), dropout rate, graduation rate
school readiness, student achievement, student engagement, high-risk subgroups
High school completion refers to a student’s ability to graduate from high school on time (within four years).
Why does high school completion matter?
When students do not complete high school, there are lasting impacts for both those individuals and their entire communities. Students who do not finish high school have much bleaker prospects than their diploma-holding peers.
Median annual earnings for Americans (ages 25–64) who do not finish high school are just $20,361, compared to $28,043 for high school graduates.  High school dropouts are more likely to be unemployed (in 2008, the estimated average unemployment rate for young dropouts was 54%) and arrested (among young males, high school dropouts are 47 times more likely to be incarcerated than their college-degree-holding peers). They are also more likely to report negative health outcomes.
There are also significant community-wide impacts associated with having a large proportion of students who do not complete high school. Lower educational attainment makes it more difficult for cities to attract businesses and the jobs they bring, and the costs associated with higher rates of incarceration and negative health outcomes are often paid by the entire community. According to a recent Northeastern University study, “The average high school dropout will cost taxpayers over $292,000 in lower tax revenues, higher cash and in-kind transfer costs, and imposed incarceration costs relative to the average high school graduate.” 
How do we measure high school completion?
The Urban Initiative is using three indicators to quantify high school completion: dropout risk levels assigned to incoming 9th grade students, a district’s dropout rate, and a district’s four-year graduation
A high school’s dropout rate measures the percentage of a district’s enrolled students (in grades 9–12) who dropped out between July 1 and June 30 of a given year and did not return to school, graduate, or receive a GED by the following October 1. This measure was developed by the US Department of Education. DESE also provides a count of dropouts for each school year. The most recent data available is from the 2010–11 school year.
Finally, a district’s four-year graduation rate measures the percentage of an entire cohort of 9th graders who graduate on time four years later. The calculation accounts for students who transfer out of or into the district during that time. DESE has been tracking this statistic since 2006.
For information about the difference between the dropout rate and the cohort graduation rate, visit this helpful page on DESE’s website.
How is Fall River doing?
1. Annual Dropout Rate: 5.6% (~135 students in 2015–16)
The annual dropout rate is the number of students who drop out in one year divided by the grade 9–12 enrollment, multiplied by 100. Based on Northeastern University’s estimated cost per dropout ($292,000), the estimated 135 students who left school in 2015–16 will cost society $39,420,000 over their lifetimes.
See below for a figure that represents the change in dropout rate over the past decade.
Cohort dropout rates represent the percentage of a cohort of 9th grade students that graduate within specified time periods. The following table breaks out four-year cohort dropout rates in Fall River by gender and race/ethnicity. The dropout rates reflect the proportion of students enrolled in grades 9–12 within each category who dropped out during the 2015–16 school year. For example, among all male students enrolled in grades 9–12 in Fall River Public Schools, 6.6 percent dropped out.
2. Graduation rate: 71.7%
Among the 679 Fall River Public Schools students who entered 9th grade in September 2011 as members of the Class of 2016, 71.7 percent of them graduated on time four years later. Of the 28.3 percent who did not graduate in 2016, 4.9 percent of the cohort remained enrolled in school, 1.6 percent earned a GED, and 15.8 percent had dropped out. Another 6.0 percent are classified as “non-graduate completers” because they either earned a certificate of attainment (i.e. met local requirements but did not pass MCAS) or reached the maximum enrollment age (22) without graduating.
The following figure demonstrates the trend in Fall River Public Schools’ four-year graduation rate since it was first tracked in 2007:
How is New Bedford doing?
1. Annual Dropout Rate: 6.8% (~149 students)
The annual dropout rate is the number of students who drop out in one year divided by the grade 9–12 enrollment, multiplied by 100. Based on Northeastern University’s estimated cost per dropout ($292,000), the 149 students who left school in 2015-16 will cost society $43,508,000 over their lifetimes.
Between 2007 and 2015, New Bedford’s dropout rate had been steadily declining. The dropout rate increased by 2.8 percentage points during the 2015–16 academic year. See below for a figure that represents the change in dropout rate over the past decade.
Cohort dropout rates represent the percentage of a cohort of 9th grade students that graduate within specified time periods. The following table breaks out four-year cohort dropout rates in New Bedford by grade level, gender, and race/ethnicity. The dropout rates reflect the proportion of students enrolled in grades 9–12 within each category who dropped out during the 2016–17 school year. For example, among all male students enrolled in grades 9–12 in New Bedford Public Schools, 9.1 percent dropped out.
2. Graduation rate: 57.9%
Among the 622 New Bedford Public School students who entered 9th grade in September 2012 as members of the Class of 2016, 60.1 percent of them graduated on time four years later. Of the 39.9 percent who did not graduate in 2016, 13.2 percent of the cohort remained enrolled in school, 1.4 percent earned a GED, and 17.0 percent had dropped out. Another 8.2 percent are classified as “non-graduate completers” because they either earned a certificate of attainment (i.e. met local requirements but did not pass MCAS) or reached the maximum enrollment age (22) without graduating.
The following figure demonstrates the trend in New Bedford Public Schools’ four-year graduation rate since it was first tracked in 2007:
What’s being done to address high school completion, and where can I learn more?
Perhaps the single best resource for both identifying potential solutions and learning more about high school completion is the website of the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University (of which the UMass Dartmouth Urban Initiative is a satellite campus). Particularly useful links include their list of fifteen effective dropout prevention strategies as well as the NDPC’s “why students drop out”.
The Urban Initiative relied heavily upon the resources provided by the NDPC when issuing its hallmark report, Dropout Prevention in the SouthCoast: Choosing a New Path to Economic Prosperity, in 2009. This report showcases data on high school completion for the entire SouthCoast region and highlights existing efforts and possible solutions directed at the high school completion challenge faced by our local communities.
The Urban Initiative has also worked with the NDPC to conduct evaluations of existing dropout prevention programs in several Massachusetts cities (Fall River, Chelsea, and Springfield). These reports are also available on our website and can be used to help schools evaluate existing efforts and identify new approaches to helping students graduate.
At the state level, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick recently announced his Gateway Cities Education Agenda to help close achievement gaps and promote college and career readiness in cities like New Bedford. This agenda includes funding for Student Support Counselors whose roles will include helping identify students’ barriers to academic engagement and achievement. This effort reflects the approach of Communities in Schools, a program with sites across the country that has succeeded in improving graduation rates in participating schools.
Data sources and methods
1) Dropout Rates
Annual dropout rates were obtained from the Mass Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). The data are available here.
Cohort dropout rates are obtained here.
2) Graduation rate data also comes from DESE and is available
 http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/acs-14.pdf “Education and Synthetic Work-Life Earnings Estimates.” American Community Survey Reports. US Census Bureau. Issued September 2011.
 Sum et al. “The Consequences of Dropping out of High School: Joblessness and Jailing for High School Dropouts and the High Cost for Taxpayers.” http://iris.lib.neu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1022&context=clms_pub
 Pleis, J.R., Lucas, J.W., and Ward, B.W. (2009). Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2008. Vital Health Stat, 10(242). National Center for Health Statistics.
 Sum et al. http://iris.lib.neu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1022&context=clms_pub