Esther Cepeda argues the time for extending the school year is long overdue (Getty Images)

On-time Latino graduation rates climb 10 points since 2006

The nation’s high school on-time graduation rate in 2010 was the highest since 1976, with only a 3 percent dropout rate, and part of this rise is due to better graduation rates among Latino students.  A new report by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 71.4 percent of Latino students graduated on-time from high school in 2010, compared to 61.4 percent in 2006, a 10-point gain in four years. Nationally, Latinos posted a 5 percent dropout rate in 2009-2010 school year, still higher than non-Hispanic whites, Asians or Pacific Islanders, which have a 2 percent dropout rate in the same time period.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview with the Associated Press that though Latino and African-American dropout rates are still “unsustainably high,” the trends were “hopeful.”

Though the report, which analyzed provisional 2009-2010 school data, did not delve into the reason for the higher high school graduation rates, researchers have pointed out several reasons.  One is the 2008 recession, which led to double-digit unemployment and the realization that jobs without a high school graduation are becoming less and less available.

“”When we talk to young people in high school, they are aware there are less job opportunities out there;  it might be a perverse incentive, but it has kept students in school,” says Deborah Santiago, vice president of policy and research and a co-founder of Excelencia in Education.

Experts also point to another reason for increased graduation rates.  Harvard economist Richard Murnane told the Wall Street Journal the dramatic reduction in teen pregnancy in the last 15 years helps explain the rise in graduation rates, since pregnancy is one of the main reasons for dropping out of school. Latina teens have seen a significant decrease in teen pregnancy numbers.  From 2007 to 2011, Latino pregnancy rates dropped 34 percent.

RELATED: How Latino communities can fight dropout high rates – through teen pregnancy prevention

The report says one of the states with the biggest gains in high school graduation rates was New York. Experts say this is due to an increase in programs which target low-income and struggling students, as well as a rise in  smaller high schools with better student-to-teacher ratios.  On the other hand, Arizona has the highest dropout rate at 8 percent, and New Mexico‘s dropout rate increased by 1 percent.

Excelencia in Education’s Santiago says better graduation rates in the Northeast and higher dropout numbers in the Southeast point to a reality which has to be addressed.

“There is great economic wealth and a lower number of students in the Northeast, but the Southwest is growing rapidly, especially its Latino students,” says Santiago.  “We have to acknowledge the need for a federal and state role in addressing  that as the student population grows, we need to increase our programs,” says Santiago.

“The news today is good, but we can’t lower our guard,” Santiago states.

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