Report: Late Graduation Pays Off


Although on-time graduation is the most desirable outcome for high school students, late graduation is significantly, quantifiably better than no graduation at all, according to a new study released this week by the Center for Public Education. The report found that "the extra work that late graduates and their high schools put into earning a diploma pays off--not only in late graduates’ academic outcomes, but in jobs, involvement in civic life, and commitment to healthy lifestyles."

The study--"Better late than never? Examining late high school graduates"--looked at the class of 1992's performance eight years later. It found that 78.6 percent of the members of the class of '92 graduated on time; 4.6 percent graduated late; 7.7 percent had received GEDs; and the remainder dropped out. Some of the advantages experienced by those who graduated late versus those who dropped out included:

  • Slightly higher attendance at college;
  • Significantly higher completion of a degree program;
  • Higher levels of employment and full-time employment; and
  • Higher participation in elections.

Among those graduating late, 59 percent enrolled in college, versus 51 percent of GED recipients. And a full 12 percent of late graduates completed at least an associates degree, compared with 3.2 percent of GED recipients.

On the employment front, late graduation also has advantages over receiving a GED.

"Eighty-five percent of late graduates are employed, compared to just 77 percent of GED recipients and 81 percent of dropouts. Furthermore, late graduates are more likely to be employed full-time than GED recipients," according to the report. And late graduates are more likely to work for higher wages and to have health benefits and retirement benefits.

The report made several recommendations for school boards and for policymakers. Some of these included:

  • Provide curricula to ensure that student are ready for high school work when they leave eighth grade;
  • Ensure that students take an academic math course in ninth grade;
  • Establish effective dropout programs for middle schoolers identified as potential dropouts; and
  • Provide support in high school for low-achieving students and teach work habits that will encourage academic success.

"Schools should continue to help students graduate on time," the report said. "Nonetheless, it is worth the district’s time and resources to graduate students who fall behind, even if it takes longer than four years."

Some of these "resources" might fall into the category of technology, in particular distance learning technologies that can make the process of completing credits for high school graduation more convenient for students.

Jim Hull, policy analyst at the Center for Public Education, cited an example of this in action: "Chicago [Public Schools] is actually incorporating online learning to help students how have dropped out earn high school credits to help them graduate with a standard high school diploma--not a GED. I spoke with a district official last week [who] indicated the program has been very successful. It certainly looks like a prototype for other districts or states to reenroll dropouts who may need to keep working while enabling them to keep working."

He continued: "So online learning has the opportunity to engage previous dropouts and enabling them to graduate late instead of never graduating at all. Hence, online learning can help increase the number of late graduates while decreasing the number of dropouts, which will be of great benefit to the students but the community as well."

The complete report can be found here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .