U.S. High School Graduation Rates Reach Highest Point in Over 40 Years

July 16, 2017, 11:30 AM

Good news for those concerned about high school dropout rates - U.S. high schoolers are graduating at a higher percentage now than ever before.

According to raw numbers put out by the Department of Education, nearly 83% of public high school students are receiving their diploma within four years after starting 9th grade ( Factoring in private school students, the overall graduation rate in the U.S. hovers just above 90%.

Since the late 1970s, graduation rates have been rising, albeit slowly, while college enrollment rates have been rising at a significantly higher pace. The most logical explanation for this is that the number of graduates who choose to go to college after high school is growing, while those not going to college are dwindling percentage-wise.

The rate of increase appears to have slowed down somewhat in the past five years as we may be reaching a saturation point in the percentage of students who are going to graduate on time. This has already happened with private schools, which have seen a steady 97-98% graduation rate ( for many years.

The percentage of students starting college immediately after graduating high school ( is sitting at around 70%, which isn’t significantly higher than the figures for the last eight years, but it higher than what it was before 2003. There seems to have been a sweet spot between 2003-2008 for college enrollment numbers (as a percentage of the total 16-24 year old population) fueled by a relatively strong job market and easy access to student loans.

Right now, the U.S. is on track to surpass mid-2000s enrollment numbers with the class of 2017, if current trends continue. While college applications are down in some areas and up in others, the overall number of students is set to rise to its highest level ever, especially at community colleges around the country.

A new study published by NitroCollege (, an online college and financial aid counseling service, reveals that students with higher SAT® scores graduate college with less student debt, while students with lower SAT® scores take on more loans to pay for college. While everyone knows SAT® scores are an important factor in college admissions, few studies have proven the long- term financial pay off of higher SAT® scores.

As a general rule, schools with higher SAT® scores occupy the section of the graph with higher earnings and lower student debt. Schools with lower SAT® scores occupy the section of the graph with lower earnings and higher student debt.

What This NitroCollege Study Teaches Us:
Studying for the SAT® generates huge financial rewards. We are not talking about savings of hundreds of dollars but thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. Just increasing SAT® scores 100-150 points could increase post-graduation earnings by $10,000+/year and reduce student debt by half. That is a super good deal.

Public Universities Offer the Best Value. For students and parents looking for the best bang for the buck, public schools tend to graduate students with less student debt. The best public schools have high SAT® score averages, so you still need to prioritize your SAT® prep. Avoid colleges with high student loan debt and low earnings, especially for-profit colleges, which tend to fall into this category.

Be Smart About Student Debt. A good rule of thumb is to limit the amount of debt you will have at graduation to 50% of estimated salary post-graduation and avoid colleges (and potentially certain majors) with high average student loan debt and weak earnings. Check out NitroCollege’s online calculator ( which gives the you the percentage of post-graduation income that will go to student loan repayment depending on college and major. You might be surprised by the results!

The Bottom Line:
With high school graduation rates the highest in forty years, colleges have an influx of new applications. Competition has never been higher for students during the college admittance process. A great way to stand out among applicants is a high SAT® score. Finally, a high SAT® score also has been proven by the NitroCollege study to lead to lower student debt accrued during time spent at a great university.

Does your family need help studying for the SAT® exam? Try the only digital SAT® prep course created by a student who got a perfect SAT® score for free now. This free course does not require any credit card and has an average score increase of 210 points.

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