As millions of American teenagers flock back to school this month, there is both good news and bad news on their chances of graduating from high school.
First, the good news. According to a U.S. Department of Education report on high school graduation rates nation-wide for 2010-2011, Iowa ranked first at 88 percent. Vermont and Wisconsin tied for second with 87 percent. Indiana, Nebraska , New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas rounded out the top nine states with an 86 percent graduation rate.
In this first-ever national data list released by the Education Department, Asian students led the demographic pack with 79 percent of them finishing high school in 2011. Whites were a close second with a 76 percent graduation rate. Black students had a 60 percent graduation rate, followed by Latino students at 58 percent.
Here’s more good news from The Atlantic magazine, “The nation’s high school graduation rate is approaching 75 percent, its highest rate in 40 years.” The article goes on to cite Tennessee with the most dramatic 10-year gain- “31.5 percentage points.”
The good news also includes impressive progress among minority students. Black students posted a graduation rate of 62 percent-further narrowing their gap with white students. Latino students did even better. Their 68 percent graduation rate cut their gap with white students in half.
The bad news here is nearly 2 million young adults are dropping out of high school yearly. Their destiny is often dire. Dropouts are forfeiting their best chance for a reasonable standard of living and pursuit of the American Dream. They are much more likely to be unemployed, or stuck in low-skill, poor-paying jobs with no real future.
I know a man who, long ago, dropped out of high school in his sophomore year. He joined the Army as a private, making roughly $80 a month. His lack of a high school diploma severely limited his chances for promotion beyond corporal. Ironically, he was soon honorably discharged from the Army because he was too young to legally serve.
Fortunately, he got a second chance to earn his diploma. This time he tackled it with new vigor and graduated from one of the finest high schools in Tennessee.
That young man’s high school diploma was the gateway to even greater educational and professional opportunities-far beyond where his modest potential as a high school dropout would have taken him.
In case you’re wondering who this young man was, it was me. I share this dropout story to prove that dropouts can-and do-drop back into school and ultimately earn their high school diploma. They need our encouragement to do just that.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.