Special Report

Cities Where the Most People Graduate High School

Michael B. Sauter

Detailed Findings

Sterling Lloyd, assistant director of the Education Week Research Center, explained that the reasons certain metropolitan areas have higher graduation rates are varied and complicated. Every school is unique, and states have different policies and standards, including the age for which school attendance is compulsory. All of these, Lloyd noted, may have an impact on regional graduation rates.

He added that demographic factors are often a strong indicator for graduation rates. “Research indicates that students with certain characteristics are at greater risk of dropping out,” Lloyd said. “[P]overty is certainly a factor, and you see that some regions have higher poverty rates than others. In general, regions that struggle with poverty also struggle with low graduation rates.“

While school success has been shown to be determined in part by factors like parent education level and poverty, many of the metro areas with high graduation rates are in places with low adult education levels and high poverty. There are some exceptions to this, including Ames, Iowa, which has the highest adult high school attainment rate as well as the second highest bachelor’s attainment rate.

One sign of the effects of higher graduation rates, however, may be the relatively low unemployment rates in many of these metro areas. Of the 25 metropolitan areas with the highest graduation rates, 15 have below average unemployment rates as of May 2018.


To determine the graduation rates of U.S. metro areas, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. High school graduation rates are defined as the percentage of the ninth-grade cohort that graduates in four years. The data represents students graduating on time in the 2014-2015 school year and is the most recent provided. The estimate of the median income for adults with less than a high school diploma and the percentage of people with at least a bachelor’s degree come from the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The May 2018 unemployment rate comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. County cohort and graduation rate were imputed with the population of 15-19 year olds in the each of the metro area’s counties, provided by the U.S Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, in order to account for counties where a cohort was not provided. Metro areas that did not have at least 80% of their graduating population represented in the county data were excluded from consideration.