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Improving High School Graduation Rates Among Males of Color

by Cairen Withington; Sandy Addis

Sep 1, 2016

Young males of color constitute a disproportionately high percentage of our nation's non-high school graduate population. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey show that in 2012, 7% of all U.S. 16- to 24-year-olds were not enrolled in school and had not earned a high school diploma or equivalency credential. That same year, for the same age group, this rate (called the status dropout rate) was 10.9% for Black males, 15.0% for Hispanic males, and 14.8% for American Indian/ Alaska Native males. For each of these ethnicities, the status dropout rate for females was significantly lower (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014, Table 219.80). The U.S. Census Bureau data also show a positive correlation between the incidence of young dropouts and levels of family poverty.

  • For students of color, primarily comprised of African American, Hispanic, and Native American youth, the percentage range for graduation rates in recent years has been from the high 60s to low 70s, compared to rates for white students around 80%.
  • Annual event dropout rates for students of color have been between 5%–7%, compared to rates around 2% for white students.
  • The economic cost of nongraduates among students of color is a significant part of the total dropout cost to the nation.
  • The ways that educators and other practitioners in the field have traditionally weighted and applied dropout prevention knowledge has likely contributed to lower graduation rates for males of color in that strategies have often utilized either a hit or miss approach or aimed to apply specific program applications from one context to a different environment/situation without the supports and modifications necessary for success in that environment or context.
  • The most successful efforts to combat issues related to young males of color dropping out of school will be those that: are systemically implemented; include the families and communities; establish collaboration and accountability; heighten and highlight the relevancy and value of education; and establish meaningful relationships between young males of color and the caring adults who guide and support them through positive youth development.