Michigan’s high school graduation rate increases for the second year in a row

Blue and yellow graduation caps are in the air with a stadium and and lights in the background.
Michigan's graduation rate rose for the second year in a row, according to data the state released Friday. (Nat Umstead/Getty Images)

Michigan’s high school graduation rate was 81.77% in 2023, the second year in a row the rates have increased and a promising sign that students are continuing to recover from the disruptive pandemic.

Last year’s graduation rate was 81.01%.

The dropout rate declined slightly to 8.13%, from 8.19% in 2022.

The four-year graduation rate represents the portion of students who entered high school in 2019 and graduated in 2023. The state released the data Friday.

The state also calculates five- and six-year rates, recognizing that some students are enrolled in early middle college programs in which they earn a high school diploma and an associate degree or other advanced certificate. Those rates also reflect students who need more time to graduate from traditional programs.

Students are counted as dropouts if they leave school permanently at any time in high school.

The state noted in a news release that graduation rates rose in all 17 categories, including for Black and Hispanic students, students from low-income homes, youth experiencing homelessness, and those in foster care.

The rising rates “are a welcome sign that student achievement is rebounding and a tribute to the hard work of Michigan students, educators, support staff, and communities,” State Superintendent Michael Rice said in a statement.

Despite the increases, stubborn and wide gaps continue to exist. The graduation rate for white students was 85%, and for Asian American students, it was 93.5%. For Black students, though, the rate was 71.3% and for Hispanic students, it was 76.8%.

The rates were dramatically lower for some of the most vulnerable students in the state. The rate was 59.6% for students with disabilities, 44% for students in foster care, and 58.3% for students experiencing homelessness.

Rice acknowledged that more work must be done to address the gaps.

Lansing district ‘overwhelmingly impressed’

Improving graduation rates has been a key goal in the Lansing School District, and the work to increase the numbers appears to be paying off. The graduation rate for 2023 was 76.37%, a 14 percentage point increase from 2021, when the rate was 62.10%. The 2023 rate is the highest the district has ever seen, Superintendent Ben Shuldiner said.

“We are overwhelmingly impressed by the hard work and dedication of our educators, our students, and our families,” Shuldiner said.

Among the initiatives that have led to the improvement, he said, is the hiring of graduation specialists at the high school and district levels. Their goal is to ensure that every student graduates.

“They’re checking in with students every day, making sure they’re coming to school and passing classes. They’re doing everything they can to make sure students are getting the support they need,” Shuldiner said.

That could mean ensuring they have tutoring, after-school help, a math class required for graduation, or a roof over their head.

Many other districts also saw gains. At Ypsilanti Community Schools, the four-year rate was 78.33% compared to 73.79% in 2022. In 2019, the rate was 68.53%.

Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross said the district has improved its rate because of gains at the districts’ alternative high schools.

Students at these high schools were typically behind in course credits.

“That team really focused last year on academic tutoring, after-school and acceleration during the Grizzly Learning Camp,” Zachery-Ross said. “And we really saw that those two differences and what’s happening in the classroom really made a difference.”

The district’s summer camp includes college visits, connecting students to community resources, and project-based learning.

Here’s what the rates looked like in several other Michigan districts:

  • Detroit Public Schools Community District’s four-year graduation rate was 74.26% compared to 71.06% in 2022. The district had a 75.84% rate in 2019.
  • Ann Arbor Public Schools’ four-year rate was 90.57%, which is up slightly from 89.23% in 2022 and 89.46% in 2019.
  • Grand Rapids Public Schools’ four-year rate was 82.39% in 2023, up from 80.53% in 2022 and 76.2% in 2019.

Traverse City Area Public Schools’ 2023 rate was lower than the previous year. The four-year graduation rate was 84.04% in 2023, down from 86.47% in 2022 and 84.97% in 2019. The district had a 90.51% rate in 2020.

Superintendent John VanWagoner said the four-year rate is misleading because the district has two high schools where some students are enrolled in early middle college, and they graduate in five years with both a diploma and associate degree or technical certificate.

Plus, the district has a large alternative high school, where many students take an extra year or two to complete their high school diploma.

For example, the five-year graduation rate at one of the high schools with an early middle college program, Traverse City Central High School, was 96.36%.

Still, VanWagoner said he wants to see graduation rates improve.

“Having one kid not graduate is too many; we want to make sure that every kid that is in our schools, that we set them up for the future, and a high school diploma is a must these days.”

Lori Higgins is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Detroit. You can reach her at lhiggins@chalkbeat.org

Isabel Lohman is a reporter for Bridge Michigan. You can reach her at ilohman@bridgemi.com.

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