WASHINGTON — The percentage of students at public high schools who graduate on time has reached its highest level in nearly 40 years, according to federal government estimates released Tuesday.
Based on data collected from the states for the Class of 2010, the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that 78 percent of students across the country earned a diploma within four years of starting high school. The graduation rate was last at that level in 1974, officials said.
High school graduation rates are one measure of school success, and educators and policymakers have been trying for decades to stem the number of U.S. students who drop out of high school. Many students who don't receive their diplomas in four years stay in school, taking five years or more to finish their coursework.
Notable in 2010 was the rise in the percentage of Hispanic students who graduate on time, with a 10-point jump over the past five years, to 71.4 percent. Hispanics are the nation's largest minority group, making up more than 50 million people, or about 16.5 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. One in four pupils at public elementary schools is now Hispanic.
Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew center, said the findings confirm trends his organization has been tracking. He pointed to the nation's soft economy as one reason more students are staying in school.
Graduation rates improved for every race and ethnicity in 2010, but gaps among racial groups persist. Asian students had the highest graduation rate, with 93 percent of students finishing high school on time. White students followed with an 83 percent graduation rate. African-Americans had 66.1 percent.