How States Rank on High-School Graduation Rates

Nationwide, the percentage of students getting their diplomas is at an all-time high. But while some states have made incredible strides, others have struggled to keep up.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

More students are graduating from high school than ever before, and that number could rise again with this year’s seniors.

The national graduation rate for the 2012-13 school year was 81 percent, which was up from 80 percent the year before and 79 percent the year before that, according to the U.S. Department of Education. This sort of growth is possible as a result of the huge improvements in the numbers of black and Latinos getting their diplomas. But it’s also due to specific state improvements.

If this trend continues, the national graduation rate could reach 90 percent by 2020, according to a report from Civic Enterprises and Johns Hopkins University, which is part of a coalition that’s spearheading the initiative to meet that goal. But stagnation in certain states could keep the national average down.

National Journal ranked and graded the states based on how their graduation rates changed between 2011 and 2013.


1) Nevada

2011: 62 percent

2013: 71 percent

Grade: A

Despite having a graduation rate well below the national average at 71 percent, the state has improved drastically from its 62-percent graduation rate in 2011. Part of that growth is due to the 11.4-point increase in Latino graduation rates over the three-year period.

2) Alabama

2011: 72 percent

2013: 80 percent

Grade: A-

Alabama is on track toward reaching a 90-percent graduation rate in the coming years, boosted by improvements among its large black enrollment. The gap between black and white graduation rates was narrowed by 5 percentage points between 2011 and 2013.​

3) New Mexico

2011: 63 percent

2013: 70 percent

Grade: A-

The graduation rate among Latinos in the state rose 9 percentage points over the three-year period. Considering that Latinos comprise 57 percent of enrollment, that gain was a boost for the state’s overall numbers. Poverty remains a difficult issue for the state. Around half of its students live in high-poverty areas, well above the national average of 20 percent. The overall graduation rate is still low, at 70 percent.

4) Utah

2011: 76 percent

2013: 83 percent

Grade: B+

Part of the growth in Utah is due to the 13.4 percentage-point rise in Latino graduation rates between 2011 and 2013. The state already has an above-average overall graduation rate of 83 percent, and it continues to rise.

5) Georgia

2011: 67 percent

2013: 72 percent

Grade: B+

Around 3 percent of the nation’s high-school students live in Georgia. With one of the largest enrollments in the country, growth in the Peach State certainly helps the national average. But the state’s average still lags at around 72 percent.


1) Arizona

2011: 78 percent

2013: 75 percent

Grade: F

Graduation rates among Latinos dipped into the 60s, hurting the state’s overall graduation rate, as Latinos make up more than 30 percent of high-school enrollment. A state-level phenomenon could also be to blame for the decrease, since each school district in the state went down.

2) Wyoming

2011: 80 percent

2013: 77 percent

Grade: F

Wyoming is one of the 10 worst states for graduating low-income students, despite its small population. The graduation rate for Latino students also went down 3 percentage points.

3) Illinois

2011: 84 percent

2013: 83 percent

Grade: D

Considering that 4 percent of the nation’s students live in this state, the graduation-rate stagnation should be concerning for the overall outlook of U.S. graduation rates. The gap between white and black graduation rates continues to widen, along with that between low-income and high-income students. The graduation rate among black students declined 3 percentage points as well.

4) New York

2011: 77 percent

2013: 77 percent

Grade: C

New York’s four largest districts are seeing declining graduation rates, while the state’s average, at 77 percent, is still below that for the country as a whole. The graduation rate for Latinos is 20 points below the overall national average. (South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington would also get a C for their stagnant graduation rates.)

5) Wisconsin

2011: 87 percent

2013: 88 percent

Grade: C+

Even though the graduation rate is well above the national average, the state still didn’t do much to close the gap between black and white graduation rates.