The high school graduation rate is the percent of public high school students who graduated in four years or less.
North Carolina’s high school graduation rate was 86% in 2018, placing our state 26th among all states. Iowa had the highest 2018 graduation rate with (91%). Tennessee and Texas were the top southern states with the highest graduation rates in 2018 (90%).
By 2030, the goal is that 95% of North Carolina high school students will graduate within four years or less. This goal is aligned with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Every Student Succeeds Consolidated State Plan.
Completing high school on time—meaning graduating in four years or less—is critical for student success. Delays in completion as a result of being held back or a break in enrollment are associated with much higher risks of eventually dropping out.
The economic impact of on-time high school graduation is significant for both individuals and their communities. Students who leave high school without a diploma are less likely to be employed, earn less money, are more likely to engage in criminal activity or require social services, and tend to live shorter and less healthy lives.
Without a diploma, these non-graduates are at a distinct disadvantage: they cannot enroll in postsecondary education and training programs, are not qualified to serve in the military, and earn a national average of $8,000 less annually compared to high school graduates. And for every student who fails to graduate, communities bear the burden of lost skilled labor, tax revenue, and lower economic activity.
The state needs 8,927 more ninth graders to complete high school in four years or less to meet the statewide high school graduation rate goal.
In 2011, North Carolina’s graduation rate was 78%,
below the national average and 26th among the states. While North Carolina’s 2018 ranking of 26 among the states was the same as 2011, the state’s graduation rate had increased to 86%, above the national average.
State-by-state data on graduation rates has been available since 2011 and is released on a slower schedule than North Carolina-only data from the Department of Public Instruction (NC DPI). We can examine national trends from 2011 to 2017 but have data on North Carolina’s performance from 2006 to 2020. This analysis and the analysis below uses NC DPI data to provide the most up-to-date look at high school graduation rates in North Carolina.
The share of ninth graders completing high school in four years has grown by nearly twenty percentage points since 2006, rising from 68% to 88% in 2018.
According to 2019-20 data released by North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction (NC DPI), North Carolina’s graduation rate has increased to 88%, up one percentage point from NC DPI’s 2018-19 data.
As of 2020, North Carolina’s high school graduation rate was seven percentage points below the 2030 goal of 95%.
Suburban North Carolina counties had the highest graduation rates in 2020 (89%), a one percentage point increase from 2019, followed closely by both urban (87%) and rural (87%) counties. The high school graduation rate was not noticeably different between rural counties within metropolitan areas and rural counties outside of metropolitan areas.
Statewide, female students have higher graduation rates than male students: 90% of female ninth graders complete high school in four years or less compared to 85% of male ninth graders.
High school graduation rates were highest for Asian students: at 94%, the 2020 graduation rate for this group is one point less than the state 2030 goal. White students had the second highest rate (91%), followed by Black, multiracial, and American Indian students (85%). Hispanic students had the lowest graduation rate (82%) in 2020.
Economically disadvantaged students—meaning students receiving free or reduced price lunch—had a high school graduation rate of 82%, nine percentage points lower than the graduation rate among not economically disadvantaged students (91%).
High school graduation rates for all states were obtained from the Common Core of Data maintained by the National Center for Education Statistics. Detailed North Carolina data was downloaded from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
North Carolina data is a direct download from the NC Department of Public Instruction (methodology). State-level data is a direct download from the National Center for Education Statistics.
The 4-year high school graduation rate shows all students in North Carolina who completed high school within 4 years, including students who:
The cohort includes students who have dropped out or are temporarily withdrawn due to suspension or school-approved illness.
Students are removed from the cohort if they:
Students who take more the four years to graduate from high school are not counted as graduates within four years. Students who are awarded a GED or similar credential are not counted as high school graduates.
If you know of an organization that is working on this topic in NC, please let us know on the feedback form.
Name: Communities in Schools of North Carolina
About: Established in 1989, Communities In Schools of North Carolina is part of the national Communities In Schools network. From their website: “Communities In Schools believes the formula for student success is ABC+P: attendance, behavior, coursework and parent/family engagement. We work directly inside nearly 300 public schools across the state, creating tailor-made plans for those students with the greatest risk of dropping out. We empower 1.5 million students nationally to stay in school and on the path to graduation each year.”
Name: NC School Report Cards
About: North Carolina’s school report cards are an important resource for parents, educators, state leaders, researchers, and others, providing information about school- and district-level data in a number of areas. These include student performance and academic growth, school and student characteristics, and many other details.
Name: NC Chamber Dashboard 2030
About: Dashboard 2030 informs dialogue and catalyzes action to address North Carolina’s economic development challenges and opportunities. It provides independent and objective data on leading indicators in four critical areas important for state and business competitiveness.
Alliance For Excellent Education. (n.d.). The High Cost of High School Dropouts: The Economic Case for Reducing the High School Dropout Rate. Retrieved December 18, 2019, from https://all4ed.org/take-action/action-academy/the-economic-case-for-reducing-the-high-school-dropout-rate/
Guison-Dowdy, A., & Becker Patterson, M. (2011). Journeys through College: Postsecondary Transitions and Outcomes of GED Test Passers. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.
Lehr, C. A., Johnson, D. R., Bremer, C. D., Cosio, A., & Thompson, M. (2004). Increasing Rates of School Completion: Moving From Policy and Research to Practice. A Manual for Policymakers, Administrators, and Educators. Minneapolis, MN: National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2018). Unemployment rates and earnings by educational attainment, 2017. Washington, DC: Bureau of Labor Statistics.
U.S. Department of Education. (2015). High School Dropouts and Stopouts: Demographic Backgrounds, Academic Experiences, Engagement, and School Characteristics (NCES 2015-064). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
No. In North Carolina, students who dropout but then complete a GED are not considered high school graduates.
No. This data only reflects outcomes for public school students. Students who began at an NC public school but transfer to private schools or home school have been removed from the cohort and are excluded from the graduation rate. These students may graduate within NC but do so from a private school or home school after transferring. However, these students do not impact the graduation rate because they have been removed from the cohort.