Current research shows that U.S. graduation rates are actually at an all-time high. In 2021, 85.3% of students graduated from high school. Yet while more than half of states (52%) are experiencing an increase in the number of students earning diplomas, there’s still work to be done to address the reasons for low graduation rates in some schools. We must focus on how to help the many teens who aren’t walking across the stage in a cap and gown each spring.
Students who graduate from school earn more in the future. According to studies, a conservative estimate of the lifetime earnings of adults who graduate is over a quarter of a million dollars ($260,000) more than those who don’t. Grads are also less likely to need social services or partake in criminal behavior later in life. Some research estimates that high school dropouts cost the economy nearly $270,000 throughout their adult lives. Other studies show that students who drop out can cost U.S. taxpayers up to $292,000 per year per student.
The task of figuring out how to improve graduation rates seems daunting, but it’s something we need to take on. Knowing and implementing effective strategies that keep kids in school will increase the number of students earning a diploma, setting them up for higher education and future success. Keep reading to learn the top 8 ideas on how to increase graduation rates in your high school.
1. Enhance student engagement
Boosting engagement is critical to student success, a key factor in learning how to improve graduation rates. Engaged students are more likely to remain motivated and in school.
Engagement has been intrinsically linked to academic achievement in studies — therefore, the more involved students are in their own learning, the better the chance they will graduate on time.
Tips for enhancing student engagement:
- Encourage classroom participation
- Use interactive learning opportunities when possible
- Offer extracurricular activities so students can interact with peers
- Utilize tools like Kahoot, which turn lessons into games
- Do group projects
2. Improve academic support
Offering additional academic support to students is a no-brainer that leads to an increased high school graduation rate. Mentoring, counseling, and tutoring can personalize learning and help students grasp fundamental concepts that lead to advancement, higher education, and professional development.
Tips for improving academic support:
- Create after-school or study-hall support programs
- Hire additional counselors
- Establish mentorship programs where older students can offer guidance
- Start a tutoring program
3. Create a positive school climate
A positive — and safe — school climate is essential to student retention and promoting a high completion rate of school. Keep in mind that when we talk about “being safe” at school, this isn’t limited to just physical surroundings. Safety is about mental and emotional support, too. Promoting respect and tolerance in the classroom and across the campus ensures students learn to appreciate and have empathy toward one another.
Implementing robust anti-bullying policies is a vital step in cultivating a positive and secure learning environment, which is essential for schools seeking to understand how to increase graduation rates. A zero-tolerance approach to bullying not only promotes safety but also contributes significantly to an atmosphere conducive to academic success.
Tips for creating a positive school climate:
- Have assemblies and workshops on tolerance
- Post anti-bullying messages around school and in classrooms
- Catch students doing something right — when you see a student being kind, acknowledge it
- Promote a “if you see something, say something” program
- Create an anonymous hotline students can use to report abuse — whether they’re experiencing or witnessing it
- Frequently recognize achievements, both big and small, to bolster self-esteem and encourage continued efforts
4. Provide mental health resources
Prioritizing good mental health is vital for student success, which directly translates to finishing high school. Current research conducted by Mental Health America suggests that more than 11% of students are dealing with major depression, which can make attending and succeeding at school feel impossible.
Students trying to manage anxiety, stress, or any mental health condition on their own will almost always struggle to focus on their studies. Making support and services available is essential to a school’s completion rate.
Tips for providing mental health resources:
- Make therapy for students available
- Conduct educational workshops and training for staff, administration, and faculty so they know how to spot the signs of a struggling student
- Offer mental health days for students
- Promote community counseling services for students and families
Talkspace partners with schools to help them provide accessible online therapy to improve student mental health.
5. Strengthen parental involvement
Parents play an instrumental role in children’s academic success. Multiple studies show that parent involvement translates to higher engagement, achievement, and motivation. In short, the more involved and invested a parent is, the easier it is to encourage, motivate, and help their child — especially throughout the trying high school years.
Tips for strengthening parental involvement:
- Build strong lines of communication between the school and home
- Encourage teachers to send regular updates on student progress
- Provide parents with resources that support learning — online tutorials, homework guides, and reading lists are all great tools
- Host “open days” or meet the teacher nights to build a sense of community
- Offer ways for parents to get involved on campus — volunteer opportunities, after-school programs, or participating in committees
6. Implement early warning systems
Most of the time, there will be warning signs before a student gets to the hopeless place where they feel dropping out of school is their only option. Designing an early warning system can alert schools and parents when students first begin to struggle. Tools can identify at-risk students by analyzing data patterns to spot red flags such as increased absences, drops in grades or test scores, and new behavioral issues.
Tips for implementing early warning systems:
- Set up an early warning system that gathers data points such as grades, attendance records, and behavior reports
- Create intervention planning strategies that will address concerns immediately
- Decide what actions should be taken based on alerts from the system
- Don’t forget to look for academic and social-emotional challenges that are common with this age group
7. Customize learning paths
Every student is unique in their learning style, strengths, areas of opportunity, and needs. Thus, when tackling the challenge of how to improve graduation rates, schools must make every effort possible to tailor education to individual needs.
Individualized instruction ensures appropriate attention is offered to every child at the level they need. Personalized learning paths should fit every student’s academic journey, so kids aren’t just meeting the bare minimum for success, they’re set up to thrive.
Education can never be a one-size-fits-all approach — helping each student flourish will boost graduation rates in the long run.
Tips for customizing learning paths:
- Adopt tech tools designed to adapt content based on real-time student performance data
- Offer teacher advancement seminars and conferences that focus on individualizing instruction
- Have regular staff, faculty, and counselor meetings where every student is discussed
- Set up teacher-student or counselor-student advisory periods to be used as check-ins
8. Foster career and college readiness
Preparing students for life after school is one of the most critical tasks high schools face today. To help with their professional development, students should be encouraged to visualize success after graduation, whether they’re heading to college, stepping straight into a career, planning to take a gap year, or anything else.
When teens see that others believe in them and are willing to help them prepare for their future, they’re more likely to have faith in themselves and stay on the path they’ve created.
Tips for fostering career and college readiness:
- Develop pathways designed to guide students toward specific careers or colleges
- Partner with local businesses or colleges to offer exposure
- Make career counseling available
- Offer financial literacy education
- Have regular college-planning meetings with students
Students need to understand the importance of graduating high school, and learning how to increase graduation rates is a crucial mission schools must tackle. Boosting graduation rates starts by focusing on engaging students, offering support, developing a united school-parent team, and ensuring students feel safe in their environment.
Investing in mental health support for students can solve some of the causes of low graduation rates and help schools achieve a better high school graduation rate. Partner with Talkspace today to make a difference.
- Craft, Sandra. “37 High School Statistics 2023 - Graduate and Drop out Rate.” ThinkImpact.com, February 11, 2022. https://www.thinkimpact.com/high-school-statistics/.
- “Why a High School Diploma Matters.” Alabama JAG, December 15, 2021. https://alabamajag.org/why-a-high-school-diploma-matters-2.
- “Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States.” IES: National Center for Education Statistics. Accessed December 8, 2023. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/dropout/intro.asp.
- Lei, Hao, Yunhuo Cui, and Wenye Zhou. “Relationships between Student Engagement and Academic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis.” Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal 46, no. 3 (March 14, 2018): 517–28. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.7054.
- “Youth Data 2023.” Mental Health America. Accessed December 8, 2023. https://mhanational.org/issues/2023/mental-health-america-youth-data.
- Barger, Michael M., Elizabeth Moorman Kim, Nathan R. Kuncel, and Eva M. Pomerantz. “The Relation between Parents’ Involvement in Children’s Schooling and Children’s Adjustment: A Meta-Analysis.” Psychological Bulletin 145, no. 9 (2019): 855–90. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000201.