America's Health Rankings, United Health Foundation Logo

High School Graduation Racial Disparity
High School Graduation Racial Disparity in United States
United States

Explore national- and state-level data for hundreds of health, environmental and socioeconomic measures, including background information about each measure. Use features on this page to find measures; view subpopulations, trends and rankings; and download and share content.

How to use this page

High School Graduation Racial Disparity in depth:

Additional Measures:

Explore Population Data:

General Population

High School Graduation Racial Disparity by State

Difference between the high school graduation rates of white students and the racial/ethnic group with the lowest rate (varies by state)

High School Graduation Racial Disparity Trends

Difference between the high school graduation rates of white students and the racial/ethnic group with the lowest rate (varies by state)

View All Populations

High School Graduation Racial Disparity

About High School Graduation Racial Disparity

US Value: 15.1

Top State(s): Hawaii: 1.0

Bottom State(s): Minnesota: 37.7

Definition: Difference between the high school graduation rates of white students and the racial/ethnic group with the lowest rate (varies by state)

Data Source and Years: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data, 2018-2019 School Year

Suggested Citation: America's Health Rankings analysis of U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data, United Health Foundation,, accessed 2023.

Education is a social determinant of health, and educational attainment is a strong predictor of future health outcomes. Higher educational attainment is associated with better jobs, higher earnings, increased health knowledge, better self-reported health and fewer chronic conditions. Individuals with lower educational attainment are at a greater risk of adverse health outcomes such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, mental health problems and premature death. Students who drop out of high school are more likely to experience incarceration. Significant disparities persist in high school graduation by race and ethnicity in the United States. 

The high school graduation rate is lowest among American Indian/Alaska Native and Black students. Asian/Pacific Islander students have the highest rate, followed by white and Hispanic students. Minnesota has the largest high school graduation racial gap, followed by South Dakota and Wyoming.

Efforts to close racial and economic gaps in educational achievement must begin in early childhood when those gaps first appear. Kentucky has had success in reducing disparities in education by: 

  • Making school funding more equitable.
  • Involving legislators, educators, community leaders and organizations, parents and other stakeholders in reform and accountability efforts.
  • Collecting student-centered data that educators can use to identify and intervene with at-risk students in real-time.
  • Creating unique learning environments that foster equitable education.

Keeping children and adolescents in school through high school and beyond is a key strategy to improve health equity. Various high school completion programs have successfully improved high school graduation rates by focusing on at-risk youths. These programs include vocational training, alternative schooling, social-emotional skills training, college-oriented programming, mentoring and counseling, attendance monitoring, community service opportunities and case management.

Eliminating health disparities, achieving health equity and attaining health literacy to improve the health and well-being of all people is a Healthy People 2030 overarching goal. Healthy People 2030 also aims to increase the proportion of students who graduate high school in four years.

Churchwell, Keith, Mitchell S.V. Elkind, Regina M. Benjamin, April P. Carson, Edward K. Chang, Willie Lawrence, Andrew Mills, et al. 2020. “Call to Action: Structural Racism as a Fundamental Driver of Health Disparities: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association.” Circulation 142 (24): e454–68.

Committee on Developing Indicators of Educational Equity, Board on Testing and Assessment, Committee on National Statistics, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, and National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Monitoring Educational Equity. Edited by Christopher Edley, Judith Koenig, Natalie Nielsen, and Constance Citro. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

Cutler, David, and Adriana Lleras-Muney. 2006. “Education and Health: Evaluating Theories and Evidence.” w12352. NBER Working Paper 12352. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

———. 2007. “Education and Health.” Policy Brief #9 9. Ann Arbor, MI: National Poverty Center, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at University of Michigan.

DeBaun, Bill, and Martens Roc. 2013. “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings.” Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Elo, Irma T., and Samuel H. Preston. 1996. “Educational Differentials in Mortality: United States, 1979–1985.” Social Science & Medicine 42 (1): 47–57.

Fox, Joanna Hornig, Erin S. Ingram, and Jennifer L. Depaoli. 2016. “For All Kids: How Kentucky Is Closing the High School Graduation Gap for Low-Income Students.” Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University.

García, Emma, and Elaine Weiss. 2017. “Reducing and Averting Achievement Gaps: Key Findings from the Report ‘Education Inequalities at the School Starting Gate’ and Comprehensive Strategies to Mitigate Early Skills Gaps.” Washington, D.C.: Economic Policy Institute.

Lansford, Jennifer E., Kenneth A. Dodge, Gregory S. Pettit, and John E. Bates. 2016. “A Public Health Perspective on School Dropout and Adult Outcomes: A Prospective Study of Risk and Protective Factors From Age 5 to 27 Years.” Journal of Adolescent Health 58 (6): 652–58.

Lundborg, Petter. 2012. “The Health Returns to Schooling—What Can We Learn from Twins?” Journal of Population Economics 26 (2): 673–701.

Peerson, Anita, and Margo Saunders. 2009. “Health Literacy Revisited: What Do We Mean and Why Does It Matter?” Health Promotion International 24 (3): 285–96.

“Why Education Matters to Health: Exploring the Causes.” 2014. Issue Brief #2 2. Education and Health Initiative. Richmond, VA: The VCU Center on Society and Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Current Reports

America’s Health Rankings builds on the work of the United Health Foundation to draw attention to public health and better understand the health of various populations. Our platform provides relevant information that policymakers, public health officials, advocates and leaders can use to effect change in their communities.

We have developed detailed analyses on the health of key populations in the country, including women and children, seniors and those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, in addition to a deep dive into health disparities across the country.