Is the Glass Emptying or Filling Up? Reconciling Divergent Trends in High School Completion and Dropout

John R. Warren, University of Minnesota
Andrew Halpern-Manners, University of Minnesota

Most people understand that the rate at which young people complete high school increased dramatically until the 1970s or 1980s, and has increased gradually ever since. This understanding is based entirely on data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), and from status- and event-dropout measures that are derived from the CPS. However, researchers using a variety of techniques to compare the number of high school diplomas that are issued each academic year to the number of young people eligible to receive them have found that the high school completion rate has actually declined modestly (but quite steadily) since at least the early 1970s. Our paper is an effort to reconcile these apparently contradictory findings. We hypothesize that this discrepancy is primarily due to (1) differences in the way GED recipients are classified; and (2) misreporting of high school graduation status by CPS respondents.

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Presented in Session 15: Historical Perspectives on Inequality