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United Way Blog

U.S. Graduation Rate at Highest Level Since 1976

At the Grad Nation Summit this week, we learned about encouraging progress being made on education: the high school graduation rate is now the highest since 1976. And progress is being fueled by significant gains made by students of color. (Find the report, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemichere)

This is affirming in so many ways. It underscores that when Americans come together to advance the common good, we can make things happen. And it reminds us that everyone can play a meaningful role in creating opportunities for all children.

Boosting high school graduation has been a concerted focus for United Way since 2008, when we put a stake in the ground and challenged our network and partners to do the same. Today, some 88% of the 1,200 United Ways in our U.S. network are investing dollars, energy, and leadership to improve high school graduation – whether that’s through school readiness, early grade reading, middle school success or cradle to career efforts. United Ways are leading Promise Neighborhood and Social Innovation Fund work, and driving collective action that’s making a difference.

No single organization – or sector – can do this alone. That’s why our partnership with the America’s Promise Alliance, a national coalition of 400 nonprofit groups, businesses, communities, educators and policymakers, is so critical.  And that’s why it’s so important for organizations to work together - aligning around common goals, using common metrics to facilitate a shared community vision and coordinated action across a diverse coalition, along with mutual accountability, sustained effort and measured results. 

Improving education impacts more than an individual’s success in school, work or life. It impacts health, life span and even voter turnout in a community. Check out United Way’s interactive Common Good Forecaster to see how different your community could look if high school graduation rates increased.

In any community, education, income and health are the building blocks for opportunity. Education is essential to getting and keeping a job with a wage that can sustain a family, and has health benefits.  An income that can cover today and save for tomorrow builds a family’s solid foundation. Good health helps children stay on track at school and adults be productive at work. Remove any of these building blocks and the other two topple. Build them all up and you have a solid foundation for individual and community prosperity.

Together, we’ve made a good start, and we’re heading in the right direction. All of us should take a moment to celebrate this education progress, and celebrate the collaborative nature of this success. But there is so much more to do. Let’s redouble our efforts to make sure every struggling student is getting the support needed to graduate.