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States where high schoolers are least likely to graduate

US Department of Education // Wikimedia Commons

States where high schoolers are least likely to graduate

High school isn’t all football games, homecoming dances, and cafeteria hangouts with friends. For many students, it’s a socially and academically demanding time filled with stressful exams, mean bullies, emotional breakups, and embarrassing moments. Anyone who has ever been a teenager can remember the roller-coaster ride of emotions endured during adolescence, so one can almost understand why a frustrated student might joke about dropping out. That’s not even considering the other pressures like domestic violence, family emergencies, and teenage pregnancy that might cause someone to give up their studies.

How many students don’t finish high school? Not as many as you might expect. Nationwide, the high school graduation rate is 84%. Using state-by-state data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Stacker ranked 49 of the 50 states by the percentage of public high school students who graduated on time in the 20152016 school year. Alabama did not meet the NCES reporting standards, so it has been omitted from this list. Read on to see what percentage of high schoolers in your state graduated on time, and find out why parents of teenagers might want to make a move to Iowa.

ALSO: Best public high school in every state

ASC PAO // Flickr

#49. Iowa

Graduation rate: 91%

Enrollment in Iowa’s public schools has been climbing for the past six years and shows no sign of slowing down. Iowa also has the highest high school graduation rate in the country at a whopping 91%.  


U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) // Wikimedia Commons

#48. New Jersey

Graduation rate: 90%

90% of New Jersey high school students graduate in four years, and just 1.2% drop out of high school altogether. That’s pretty impressive considering that 1.37 million students are enrolled in New Jersey public schools.


Steve Moses // Flickr

#47. West Virginia

Graduation rate: 90%

More than 17,600 students graduated from West Virginia public schools in 2013—that’s 90% of the students enrolled.


Shal Farley // Flickr

#46. Kentucky

Graduation rate: 89%

In 2016, 656,588 students were enrolled in Kentucky public schools. Not only do 89% of students graduate high school in four years, but 92.5% of all students go on to attend college, enter vocational or technical schools, sign up for the military, or find a job.  


Dave Herholz // Flickr

#45. Missouri

Graduation rate: 89%

A full 89% of Missouri high school students graduate high school, but how many go on to earn a college degree? A recent report from the Missouri Coordinating Board of Higher Education revealed that only 48.9% of students who graduated from Missouri public high schools and entered a two- or four-year college in 2011 had completed a degree by 2017.


mendo_video_productions // Flickr

#44. Nebraska

Graduation rate: 89%

Students at Nebraska’s 101 public schools are among the most likely to graduate in the nation. A full 89% receive their degree in four years, making Nebraska the sixth best state for high school graduation rates.


KIPPmarketing // Flickr

#43. Tennessee

Graduation rate: 89%

Tennessee’s graduation rate—89.1%—is the highest it’s ever been. More than 56% of high school districts saw their rates improve year over year in 2018.  


KIPPmarketing // Flickr

#42. Texas

Graduation rate: 89%

With a student population of 5.1 million, Texas has more public school students than some states have residents. Interestingly, half of these students are educated in just four of the state’s school districts.


MDGovpics // Flickr

#41. Maryland

Graduation rate: 88%

In 2017, Maryland had a high school attendance rate of 91.3%. Students’ top-notch attendance also led to a stellar graduation rate.  


Kenneth C. Zirkel // Wikimedia Commons

#40. Massachusetts

Graduation rate: 88%

In the 2016–2017 school year, only 1.8% of Massachusetts high school students dropped out. The dropout rate has been steadily decreasing since the 2006–2007 school year, when it was 3.8%.  


Chip Griffin // Flickr

#39. New Hampshire

Graduation rate: 88%

Just 1.12% of high school students in New Hampshire dropped out of high school during the 2016–2017 school year. Interestingly, just three students in the entire state graduated high school early and went on to college that same year.


Fargo-Moorhead CVB // Flickr

#38. North Dakota

Graduation rate: 88%

North Dakota ranks 12th in the nation for its high school graduation rate, but 36th for its four-year college graduation rate. The two-year college graduation ranking is much better—placing fourth in the country.


beltramistudios // Flickr

#37. Vermont

Graduation rate: 88%

Vermont’s high school graduation rate has dropped a bit from the 2009 school year, when it had the best rate in the nation at 91.4%.


Erikwbrown // Wikimedia Commons

#36. Wisconsin

Graduation rate: 88%

Though Wisconsin has a high average graduation rate, the data looks murkier when you separate students by ethnicity. In the 2015–2016 school year, white students graduated high school at a rate of 92.7%.  Meanwhile, the rate for black students was a measly 64.2%.


Michael Barera // Wikimedia Commons

#35. Arkansas

Graduation rate: 87%

With a teacher to student ratio of roughly 1 to 14, Arkansas beats the national average of 1 to 16. That’s also true for the state’s high school graduation rate, which is three percentage points above the national average.


Justin Brockie // Flickr

#34. Connecticut

Graduation rate: 87%

Enrollment in Connecticut public schools has dropped by nearly 36,000 students in the last 10 years. That trend is projected to continue even though Connecticut ranks in the top quarter of states due to its high graduation rate.  


Paul // Wikimedia Commons

#33. Indiana

Graduation rate: 87%

Indiana’s high school graduation rate fell two percentage points from 2016 to 2017. That decline was the largest drop in the past 11 years.


aresauburn // Flickr

#32. Maine

Graduation rate: 87%

Maine has one of the nation’s highest ratios of teachers to students at 1 to 12. This New England state also had much lower spending per pupil than neighboring states like Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire—all of which have higher graduation rates than Maine.


Mobilus In Mobili // Flickr

#31. Virginia

Graduation rate: 87%

Virginia’s high school graduation rate has steadily increased from 82% in the 20102011 school year.  


US Department of Education // Flickr

#30. Delaware

Graduation rate: 86%

The graduation rate is also trending upward in Delaware, from just 80% in 2011–2012. Low-income students, however, graduate high school on time at a rate of 75%.  


Kseferovic // Wikimedia Commons

#29. Illinois

Graduation rate: 86%

With more than 2 million students, Illinois schools have an enrollment that’s more than double the national average. The state’s high school graduation rate comes in near the middle of the pack.


mark reinstein / Shutterstock

#28. Kansas

Graduation rate: 86%

Kansas has a lower teacher to student ratio and higher graduation rate than the national average.


jshontz // Flickr

#27. Montana

Graduation rate: 86%

Montana’s high school graduation rates have steadily improved over the past five years, but American Indian students still graduate at a rate that’s 20 percentage points lower than the general population. That gap is even higher between white and American Indian students at 23%.   



#26. North Carolina

Graduation rate: 86%

North Carolina’s graduation rate is slightly above the national average, but its students’ average composite ACT score is relatively low at an 18.3.


capa high school // Flickr

#25. Pennsylvania

Graduation rate: 86%

Pennsylvania’s high school graduation rate is 2 percentage points above the national average. The state also has a low dropout rate of just 1.72%.


Awfield // Wikimedia Commons

#24. Utah

Graduation rate: 85%

Over the past five years, Utah’s graduation rate has consistently increased, from 81% in 2013. However, the state’s dropout rate is relatively high at 13% in 2016.  


State Farm // Flickr

#23. Ohio

Graduation rate: 84%

More than 113,000 students graduated from Ohio high schools during the 2015–2016 school year. The state’s graduation rate is exactly the same as the national average.


Runner1928 // Wikimedia Commons

#22. South Dakota

Graduation rate: 84%

With just 722 schools and 134,253 students, South Dakota has a significantly smaller education system than the average U.S. state.


Cullen328 // Wikimedia Commons

#21. California

Graduation rate: 83%

More than 6.2 million students attend school in California—that’s more than six times as many as the average state. California’s high school graduation rate is also slightly below the national average.


Makuahine Pa'i Ki’i // Flickr

#20. Hawaii

Graduation rate: 83%

Hawaii is the only state with just one school district—after all, the state only has 292 schools in total. Like California, Hawaii’s graduation rate fell slightly below the national average.


Kenneth C. Zirkel // Wikimedia Commons

#19. Rhode Island

Graduation rate: 83%

A little more than 8% of Rhode Island students dropped out in the 2015–2016 school year, while another 1.6% received their GED.


Tabatha Duarte // U.S. Air Force

#18. South Carolina

Graduation rate: 83%

About 2.4% all South Carolina high school students dropped out of school in the 2016–2017 school year. That’s about half the national average, but South Carolina’s overall graduation rate still didn’t reach the national average.


edkohler // Wikimedia Commons

#17. Minnesota

Graduation rate: 82%

At 82%, Minnesota’s four-year graduation rate has never been higher. It has made steady progress over the past five years, though officials say there is still a stark gap between minorities and white students.  


Jeff Walston // U.S. Air Force

#16. Mississippi

Graduation rate: 82%

Mississippi’s graduation rate has also continued to rise over the past few years. Students with disabilities still graduate at an alarmingly low rate of just 36%.


Jim, the Photographer // Flickr

#15. Oklahoma

Graduation rate: 82%

Oklahoma’s dropout rate rose from 1.9% to 3% in the 2016–2017 school year. It had previously held steady at close to 2% since 2013.


Michael Tipton // Flickr

#14. Florida

Graduation rate: 81%

Since 2011, Florida’s dropout rate has declined gradually year over year to the most recent rate of 3.8%. However, that rate is significantly higher for students of color than white students.


JulieTFarbarik // Wikimedia Commons

#13. Arizona

Graduation rate: 80%

In 2013, Arizona’s dropout rate was the highest in the nation at 7.8%. Its high school graduation rate is also four points lower than the national average.  


paulternate // Flickr

#12. Idaho

Graduation rate: 80%

Though Idaho’s graduation rate did improve slightly year over year, it still lagged behind the national average in 2016.


Fort Meade // Flickr

#11. Michigan

Graduation rate: 80%

Michigan’s four-year graduation rate increased slightly from year to year, but it still lies below the national average. The dropout rate is also above 8%.  


US Department of Education // Flickr

#10. New York

Graduation rate: 80%

The Empire State boasts the largest school district in the country: New York City’s school system, which has more than 1.1 million students and 1,843 schools. Unfortunately, New York state’s graduation rate isn’t quite as notable.


Quinn Dombrowski // Wikimedia Commons

#9. Washington

Graduation rate: 80%

When it comes to per pupil spending, Washington ranks #39 in the nation. Therefore, it’s not shocking that this state also has one of the 10 lowest high school graduation rates in the country.  


Smallbones // Wikimedia Commons

#8. Wyoming

Graduation rate: 80%

On average, Wyoming spent about $15,700 per pupil in 2013—the seventh highest amount in the country that year. Still, that didn’t seem to improve the dismal graduation rate.


US Department of Education // Flickr

#7. Colorado

Graduation rate: 79%

The dropout rate in Colorado has held steady for the past two years at 2.3%. However, 40 of Colorado’s 185 school districts are quite small. They each have fewer than 100 students in 7th through 12th grade. This might be driving up the dropout percentage rates.


US Department of Education // Wikimedia Commons

#6. Georgia

Graduation rate: 79%

With 1,757,237 students enrolled in Georgia public schools, it surpasses the national average. Its graduation rate, however, is a full 5 percentage points below the national average.


US Department of Education // Wikimedia Commons

#5. Louisiana

Graduation rate: 79%

Though Louisiana’s graduation rate is at an all-time high, it still remains lower than the national average. The state even passed a law in 2009 that required Louisiana to reach a 90% graduation rate but to no avail.


RadioKAOS // Wikimedia Commons

#4. Alaska

Graduation rate: 76%

From 2004 to 2016, Alaska increased its high school graduation rate from just 61% to 76%. While it’s still among the lowest in the country, that’s a massive improvement. Over the same period, the dropout rate declined from 6% to 3.9%.  


Loren Kerns

#3. Oregon

Graduation rate: 75%

With a dropout rate of 3.9% and a four-year graduation rate well below the national average, Oregon high schools have some work to do. Minorities and disadvantaged students have even higher dropout rates.


Matt Lee Smith Jr. // Wikimedia Commons

#2. Nevada

Graduation rate: 74%

About 1 in 4 high school students in Nevada don’t graduate on time. However, the dropout rate is only 3%, which indicates that many students go on to receive their degrees in five or more years.


Atomic City505 // Wikimedia Commons

#1. New Mexico

Graduation rate: 71%

A full 29% of New Mexico high schoolers fail to graduate in four years, a figure that makes it the worst in the nation. In 2016, 16% of students either dropped out or exited high school for an unknown reason.

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