U.S High School Graduation Rates: Patterns and Explanations

Article, Preprint OPEN
Richard J. Murnane (2013)
  • Journal: Journal of Economic Literature, volume 51, issue 2 June, pages 370-422
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1257/jel.51.2.370
  • Subject:
    • jel: jel:I21 | jel:J31 | jel:C81 | jel:J24 | jel:I24 | jel:J16 | jel:J15
    mesheuropmc: education

I survey the evidence on patterns in U.S. high school graduation rates over the period 1970–2010 and report the results of new research conducted to fill in holes in the evidence. I begin by pointing out the strengths and limitations of existing data sources. I then describe six striking patterns in graduation rates. They include stagnation over the last three decades of the twentieth century, significant race-, income-, and gender-based gaps, and significant increases in graduation rates over the first decade of the twenty-first century, especially among blacks and Hispanics. I then describe the models economists use to explain the decisions of individuals to invest in schooling, and examine the extent to which the parameters of the models explain recent patterns in graduation rates. I find that increases in the nonmonetary costs of completing high school and the increasing availability of the GED credential help to explain stagnation in the face of substantial gaps between the wages of high school graduates and school dropouts. I point out that there are several hypotheses, but to date, very little evidence to explain the increases in high school graduation rates over the first decade of the twenty-first century. I conclude by reviewing the evidence on effective strategies to increase high school graduation rates, and explaining why the causal evidence is quite modest.
  • References (16)
    16 references, page 1 of 2

    Akerlof, George A. and Rachel E. Kranton. 2000. "Economics and Identity." Quarterly Journal of Economics 115 (3): 715-753.

    Bettinger, Eric and Robert Slonim. 2007. "Patience among Children." Journal of Public Economics 91 (1-2): 343-363.

    Betts, Julian R. and Robert B. Costrell. 2001. "Incentives and Equity Under Standards-Based Reform." In Brookings Papers on Education Policy: 2001, edited by Diane Ravitch. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution.

    Betts, Julian R. 1998. "The Impact of Educational Standards on the Level and Distribution of Earnings." American Economic Review 88 (1): 266-275.

    Bishop, John H., Ferran Mane, Michael Bishop, and Joan Moriarty. 2001. "The Role of End-ofCourse Exams and Minimal Competency Exams in Standards-Based Reforms." In Brookings Papers in Education Policy 2001, edited by Diane Ravitch. Washington, D.C.: Brookings.

    Castillo, Marco, Paul J. Ferraro, Jeffrey L. Jordan, and Ragan Petrie. 2011. "The Today and Tomorrow of Kids: Time Preferences and Educational Outcomes of Children." Journal of Public Economics 95 (11-12): 1377-1385.

    Chapman, Chris, Jennifer Laird, Nicole Ifill, and Angelina KewalRamani. 2011. Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972-2009. Washington DC: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.

    Charles, Kerwin Kofi and Ming Ching Luoh. 2010. "Male Incarceration, the Marriage Market, and Female Outcomes." Review of Economics and Statistics 92 (3): 614-627.

    Chetty, Raj, John N. Friedman, Nathaniel Hilger, Emmanuel Saez, Diane Schanzenbach, and Danny Yagan. 2011. "How does Your Kindergarten Classroom Affect Your Earnings? Evidence from Project STAR." Quarterly Journal of Economics 126 (4): 1593-1660.

    Chetty, Raj, John N. Friedman, and Jonah H. Rockoff. 2011. The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood. Cambridge, MA: working paper no. 17699, National Bureau of Economic Research.

  • Metrics
    No metrics available
Share - Bookmark