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Mapping high school graduation rates

5 min read


Thousands of teenagers are graduating from high school this month. Many plan to attend college and conquer the world. Others are content to find a good job and settle down. High school graduation rates have been rising in the U.S. over the past several years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 87.65% of the U.S. population has graduated from high school. In 2010, 78.2% of high school students received their diploma in four years, according to the Department of Education. For the first time in history, the U.S. is on track to have a 90% graduation rate by 2020, according to the “Building a Grad Nation” report produced by America’s Promise Alliance.

Which states and counties have the highest graduation rates? Which have the lowest? What are some reasons for this disparity?

High school graduation rates by location

Graduation rates vary immensely across the country. By state, Wisconsin, Vermont, Minnesota and North Dakota have the highest high school graduation rates. At least 87.4% of their students graduate from high school, according to America’s Health Rankings. Nevada, Mississippi and New Mexico have the lowest rates.

County Health Rankings and Roadmaps notes that in 2011 several counties, including Hinsdale in Colorado, Hodgeman in Kansas and Baylor in Texas, achieved a 100% graduation rate of 9th-graders who graduate in four years.

Graduation rates of 50% or less are noted in other counties such as Alpine in California, Dawes in Nebraska and Glades in Florida. See high school graduation rates by state and county in this interactive map:

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Numerous reasons can account for variations in high school graduation rates, including per capita income and access to health insurance. People with lower incomes and no health insurance are less likely to graduate from high school, according to America’s Health Rankings. High school graduates, on average, earn more money over time than those without a high school diploma. According to the Census Bureau, high school graduates earn $652 week; those without a high school diploma earn $471 per week. Those without a high school diploma are also much more likely to be unemployed.

The per capita income in the U.S. in 2012 was $26,409 according to Esri’s 2012/2017 Updated Demographics; however, this number, varies by location and industry sector. Connecticut and Maryland have the highest 2012 per capita incomes at $35,247 and $34,360, respectively, according to Esri’s demographic estimates. Their high school graduation rates are both over 75%. Arkansas and Mississippi have the lowest per capita incomes at $21,011 and $19,477, respectively. Their high school graduation rates are 74% and 62%, respectively.

Arlington County, Alexandria City and Falls Church City in Virginia have the nation’s highest per capita incomes of more than $50,000. Their high school graduation rates are 82% or higher.

Counties with the lowest per capita incomes include Todd in South Dakota, Sioux in North Dakota and Holmes in Mississippi, where per capita incomes are below $12,200. Their high school graduation rates are 66% or lower.

Explore this map for more information about per capita income:

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America’s Health Ratings states that there is a strong correlations between educational attainment and lack of health insurance. Students who miss school when they are sick have difficulty catching up to graduate. People without health insurance can still obtain health care through clinics, however, it may take longer and may not be as good as through insurance. According to the Census Bureau, 15.7% of Americans did not have health insurance in 2011.

At least 25% of the population in Texas, Florida and Nevada is uninsured — the nation’s highest rates. The high school graduation rate in Texas is 75% — the U.S. average. High school graduation rates in Florida and Nevada are below the U.S. average — 69% and 56%, respectively.

Less than 10% of the population in Vermont, Hawaii and Massachusetts is uninsured — the nation’s lowest rates. High school graduation rates in these states are average or above average. For example, Vermont’s high school graduation rate is 90%.

At the county level, there seems to be a less obvious correlation between high school graduation rates and the uninsured population. Hidalgo County in Texas, Miami-Dade County in Florida and LaGrange County in Indiana are among the counties with the highest rates of uninsured populations. In each of these counties, at least 35% of the population is uninsured; however, high school graduation rates are higher than 80%.

In Maui County in Hawaii, Bibb County in Georgia and St. Louis City in Missouri, high school graduation rates are just above 50%; 19% or more of the population is uninsured.

Learn more about locations of the uninsured populations in this interactive map:

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Why this matters

How can organizations help improve high school graduation rates at the local, county, state and national levels? Not surprisingly, students from wealthy families are more likely to graduate from high school and even college. However, many factors beyond affluence can help improve graduation rates, including access to health insurance, healthy food and mentoring programs.

Governments and private-sector institutions that understand the need for assistance at all levels can help make a difference. Organizations that know local situations can help provide specific services and social programs to help students stay in school and complete their education. Private-sector institutions can send donations, services, healthy food and equipment to areas with the greatest need. Communities that focus on raising graduation rates of their high school students can help improve their lives. Local graduates can land good jobs, contribute to the local economy and achieve a better quality of life.

More information about Esri’s data can be found at or to learn more about Esri in general, go to

Pam Allison is a digital media, marketing strategist and location intelligence consultant. You can visit her blog at