Even in pandemic-altered 2019-20, more students graduate from high school

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Michigan's high school graduation rate increased slightly last spring despite the fact that students were shut out of school buildings during the initial months of COVID-19 pandemic and learned at home.

Data released Friday by the Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information shows the 2019-20 academic year four-year graduation rate was 82.07%, a .66 percentage point increase from the 2018-19 school year.

Class of 2020 graduates are celebrated in June 2020.

The year-over-year graduation rate change from from the 2017-18 school year to 2018-19 year was an increase of .77 percentage points.

The state's 2019-20 high school dropout rate fell to 7.77%, a .59 percentage point decrease from the 2018-19 rate, officials said.

K-12 schools were closed statewide starting in mid-March when cases of COVID-19 began increasing in Michigan and across the nation. They remained closed through the end of June last school year.

In April, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order to indefinitely close all K-12 schools included a provision that all Michigan high school seniors would be given the opportunity to graduate.

More than half of school districts (51.99%) across the state showed a graduation rate increase for 2019-20, CEPI reported.

State Superintendent Michael Rice said, given the advent of the pandemic last March, it’s good news that graduation rates continued to increase.

"It’s also good news that the gaps between African American and Hispanic students on the one hand and White students on the other have declined over the last decade,” Rice said.

Rice said in 2011, four-year graduation rates were 57.02%, 62.60% and 80.14% for African American, Hispanic and White students, respectively. In 2020, the gaps had narrowed, with four-year graduation rates of 70.37%, 75.48% and 85.44%, respectively.

"While we still have significant room to improve with all groups of students, graduation rate increases and narrowing of the gaps in the last decade are welcome signs of improvement," Rice said.

Gaps associated with five-year graduation rates have narrowed, state officials said.

For 2011, five-year graduation rates were 62.56%, 68.31% and 84.81% for African American, Hispanic and White students, respectively. For 2020, the gaps had narrowed substantially, with five-year graduation rates of 74.11%, 80.06% and 87.42%, respectively. 

The statewide five-year graduation rate increased .65 percentage points to 84.44% and the 6-year rate grew to 84.48% percent, a .52 percentage point increase.

Early Middle College students, who take an extra year to graduate high school while earning college credit, consistently have five- and six-year graduation rates that exceed 97%, state officials said.

Education experts said the state's graduation rate has been on an upward trajectory for the last five years and the 2019-20 increase is not the biggest, as evidenced by the data.

"Personally, I'm glad that kids graduated, and I'll be interested to see what the data look like for 2021," said Elizabeth Moje, dean of the University of Michigan's School of Education.

Graduation rates in the state's largest district, Detroit Public Schools Community District, dropped to 72.45% from 75.84% for the 2018-19 school year. DPSCD's drop-out rate increased from 11.71% in 2018-19 to 13.23% for the 2019-20 year.


                                        2015-16   2016-17    2017-18   2018-19    2019-20

4-Year Graduation Rate    79.65%    80.18%    80.64%    81.41%    82.07%

4-Year Dropout Rate           8.91%    8.65%       8.73%       8.36%      7.77%