NC Graduation Rate Continues to Climb; Gaps Narrow


North Carolina’s four-year cohort high school graduation rate increased to 87.6 percent with the class of 2020, up from 86.5 percent for the 2019 graduating class. Since 2006, when North Carolina first reported a cohort graduation rate – then 68.3 percent – this critical measure of student success has improved by more than 19 percentage points.

Gains among several student groups outpaced the state’s overall increase last year, continuing a trend in the state that has seen gaps closing for minority and economically disadvantaged students against the rate for white students and the state’s total overall. Except for students with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency, the four-year graduation rate for all subgroups exceeded 80 percent.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson said North Carolina’s continued improvement in high school completion means that more students from all backgrounds are better positioned for success after high school.

“Students need to know that there are many different career pathways they can pursue,” Johnson said, “but graduating from high school is the first step that all students must take for whatever path they choose.

“North Carolinians should be encouraged that more students are earning their diplomas, especially in an increasingly competitive world where some kind of postsecondary training or education is essential for them to achieve their American Dream,” he said.

The latest increases for student groups that have been underrepresented as high school graduates and in postsecondary education add to 15 years of strong gains in graduation outcomes that have exceeded the state’s overall growth of 19.3 percentage points.

The four-year graduation rate for students from low-income families has increased by 26.6 percentage points since 2006, reaching 82.2 percent, while the rate for black students has increased by 24.8 points, to 85.2 percent. The graduation rate for Native American students has increased 34 points since 2006, reaching 85.1 percent for the class of 2020. The gain for white students was 17.2 points over the same period, reaching 90.7 percent for the most recent class.

As a result of those gains, persistent gaps evident in 2006 have narrowed significantly. The gap between white and black students, for example, has closed by more than half, from 13.1 points in 2006 to 5.5 points in 2020; a similar trend is seen between students from low-income families and the state as a whole, closing from 12.7 points in 2006 to 5.4 points in 2020.

The gains in recent years have been achieved along with more demanding graduation requirements. Since 2009, high school students have been required to earn a minimum of 22 course credits, up from 20 previously, and they are expected to complete mathematics through Math III as a minimum.

4-Year Cohort Graduation Rate – State of North Carolina Results by Subgroup

All Students 68.3 86.5 87.6 1.1 19.3
Male 64.0 83.5 84.9 1.4 20.9
Female 72.6 89.7 90.4 0.7 17.8
American Indian 51.1 81.2 85.1 3.9 34.0
Asian 75.2 94.5 94.4 - 0.1 19.2
Black 60.4 83.7 85.2 1.5 24.8
Hispanic 52.3 81.1 81.7 0.6 29.4
Multi-Racial 66.0 83.9 85.3 1.4 19.3
White 73.5 89.6 90.7 1.1 17.2
Economically Disadvantaged 55.6 81.8 82.2 0.4 26.6
Limited English Proficient 55.0 71.4 71.4 0.0 16.4
Students With Disabilities 50.0 69.8 72.1 2.3 22.1
Academically Gifted - >95 >95 0.3 NA

Subgroup information is based on data collected when a student is last seen in the cohort. The table reflects data as of Aug. 31, 2020.


Cohort graduation rates for individual districts and schools can be found here:

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