Graduation Rates Are Up, But There’s Still Work To Do

JBL-headshot for blog

Jennifer Brown Lerner, Deputy Director

As you may have heard or read recently, more high school students are earning diplomas. The graduation rate hit 81 percent in 2012-13, the highest level in the nation’s history. Recently released data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics shows graduation rates for black and Hispanic students increased by nearly four percentage points from 2011 to 2013, a significant step in our efforts to close the achievement gap.

We should celebrate our successes with high graduation rates, but there is still work to do be done!

First, we must recognize that there still remain a significant number of young people who are not in school and not working. For the 16-24 age group, estimates indicate at least 6.7 million (17%) have dropped out of high school or college and been unable to find work; may have been involved in the criminal justice system; may have mental or health conditions that have inhibited their activities; or may have care-giving responsibilities in their families. These youth are disproportionately male and from minority groups, but substantial rates are found for all youth groups.

Second, completion of high school is important, yet not sufficient. Labor market statistics indicate the majority (65%) of jobs in 2020 will minimally require a postsecondary credential (certificate, associate’s, or bachelor’s degree).

While we must consider a set of unique strategies for the two challenges outlined above, AYPF has been looking at their intersection: postsecondary pathways for Opportunity Youth. Over the past two years, AYPF has been researching and documenting efforts in two states, Connecticut and Michigan. At our Capitol Hill forum on Friday, March 27th, we will be releasing our reports and hosting a panel with leading practitioners and advocates from these states to highlight their promising work and discuss the implications for federal policy.

Our reports aim to do three things:

  • Define the population of Opportunity Youth in Connecticut and Michigan and describe some the barriers they face to reengaging in education, workforce training, and employment.
  • Catalogue some of the promising postsecondary pathways for Opportunity Youth by highlighting the common elements of research-supported best practices.
  • Make recommendations for state-level stakeholders (agencies, elected officials, advocates, etc.) on opportunities for the states to assist in building, scaling, and sustaining postsecondary pathways for Opportunity Youth.

In order to advance the conversation around the role of policy at the federal, state, and local levels, AYPF believes we must more deeply understand the Opportunity Youth population and how programs and communities are aiming to best reconnect and reengage these young people in education and employment training to put them on a pathways to long-term success. Particularly, as states begin to implement the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act, which requires that 75% of the Title I funds for youth activities serve out-of-school youth, it is a perfect time to listen and learn about postsecondary pathways for Opportunity Youth.

The online release of our reports is Friday, March 27th and they will be available for download at


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.