Black and Hispanic Students Have Sharply Cut Dropout Rates, in High School, New Report by AIR shows, but Gaps Persist

Washington, D.C. — Black and Hispanic students have cut their high school dropout rates and increased their rates of college attendance, according to a new study conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) for the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

In 2013, 12 percent of Hispanic students aged 16 to 24 were not in school and hadn’t earned a diploma (also known as the status dropout rate) —down from 32 percent in 1990, according to the report. Over the same period, the dropout rate among black students was cut nearly in half—from 13 percent in 1990 to 7 percent in 2013. The status dropout rate also fell among whites over that period, from 9 to 5 percent.

With increased high school completion for Hispanic and black students has come increases in college enrollment. Hispanic students represented 17 percent of undergraduates in 2013, compared to 6 percent a decade earlier. The black share of enrollment during this period grew from 10 to 15 percent. 

Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2016 is the latest in a series of reports since 2003 on educational progress—from preschool through graduate school—among different groups. It draws on surveys and administrative records from students, teachers, school, local and state education agencies, and colleges and universities. Data sources include the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Common Core of Data maintained by NCES, and several U.S. Census Bureau surveys.

“This year’s report is the first to provide detailed breakdowns for Asian and Hispanic subgroups,” said Angelina KewalRamani, principal researcher at AIR and co-author of the report. “This level of disaggregation is unique to this report and a critical need. Important differences among these subgroups are often masked when reporting educational outcomes for Asians and Hispanics as groups.”

For example, the overall status dropout rate among Hispanic students was 12 percent in 2013, but variation among subgroups was considerable. Status dropout rates included 2 percent for Peruvians, 6 percent for Cubans, and 27 percent for Guatemalans.

The report also covers trends in enrollment, school discipline and safety, dropout rates, achievement and outcomes of education. Among the highlights:

  • Enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools was 51 percent white in 2012—down from 59 percent a decade earlier and projected to decline to 46 percent by 2024. The black share of enrollment declined slightly over the same period—from 17 to 16 percent—while Hispanic enrollment rose from 18 to 24 percent.
  • Black students were much more likely to be suspended from school. In 2012, 39 percent of black public school students in grades 6-12 had been suspended at some point, compared with 17 percent of Hispanic students, 15.5 percent of whites, and 9.5 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders.
  • Some achievement gaps among different racial and ethnic groups have narrowed while others remained flat or even widened. For example, white students outscored blacks by 32 points in fourth grade reading on NAEP in 1992. By 2013, the gap was 26 points. But among 12th graders, the black-white gap grew from 24 points in 1992 to 30 points in 2013.
  • Black students account for 28 percent of public charter school students, but only 15 percent of the students in traditional public schools. Hispanic students also enroll in charter schools at a higher rate than in traditional public schools (29 percent vs. 24 percent).
  • Asians were much more likely than other groups to have completed calculus as their most advanced math course—45 percent of Asians, compared to 18 percent of whites, 10 percent of Hispanics, and 6 percent of blacks.  It was also more common for Asians to have earned at least one Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate credit—72 percent of Asians in the high school class of 2013, compared to 40 percent of whites, 34 percent of Hispanics, and 23 percent of blacks.
  • Besides enrolling at greater rates, Hispanic and black students also showed increases in college completion. The number of Hispanics receiving bachelor’s degrees more than doubled between 2002-03 and 2012-13 while the number of degrees conferred to blacks increased to 54 percent, and the number of degrees conferred to Asian/Pacific Islanders to 48 percent. Other groups showed smaller increases.
  • Women earned 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in 2012-13. However, in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, men earned 65 percent of the degrees. In all racial and ethnic groups, men earned more STEM degrees than women did.

AIR played a key role in producing this report and developed the indicators on nativity, children living in poverty, early childcare and education arrangements, safety at school, college participation rates, degrees awarded, and other topics.

“Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2016” can be found on the NCES website.

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity. For more information, visit