Colorado’s four-year graduation rate rose in 2022 – alongside the dropout rate

Written by: Lauren Hecht
Date Posted: January 20, 2023

The on-time high school graduation rate for Colorado students increased to 82.3% among the class of 2022, according to data released last week by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). Aside from a small decline in the state’s graduation rate in 2021, the share of Colorado high school students graduating within four years has steadily increased by nearly 10 percentage points since 2010. However, the data released by CDE also reveal a concerning development – for the first time since 2015, the state’s overall dropout rate increased.  

In the 2021-22 school year, approximately 10,500 students in grades seven through 12 dropped out. Colorado’s overall dropout rate now stands at 2.2%, a 0.4 percentage point increase from 2021. Up until this point, the state’s dropout rate had been holding steady throughout the pandemic. 

The increase in the dropout rate likely reflects ongoing challenges faced by students, schools, teachers, and districts. The COVID-19 pandemic no longer prompts widespread closures and disjointed learning environments, but nearly three years since the onset, its fallout continues to impact student engagement. It will take years to understand the extent of the pandemic’s impact on student learning and well-being. Collecting and observing this data is critical as we continue to assess our students’ needs. 

The newly released graduation data indicate progress, as well. The graduation rate for students with disabilities, on Individualized Education Programs, jumped from 59.2% in 2019 to 67.9% in 2022. Additionally, the graduation rate for students of color rose – Black, Asian, and Hispanic/Latino students all graduated at higher rates in 2022 as compared to 2021.  

According to our 2022 KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report, students of color were making significant gains in on-time graduation prior to the pandemic, only for that progress to stall in 2021 amid the pandemic. The health and economic impacts of COVID-19 were disproportionately concentrated among students historically facing more barriers to opportunity – those more likely to be dealing with internet inaccessibility during remote-learning periods, those with essential workers as a parent or caregiver, and those experiencing pandemic-related job or income loss in their households. With this additional context, the improvements seen among the Class of 2022 speak to the resilience of our students as they adapt to and navigate an educational and public health landscape that continues to change. 

Attaining a high school diploma is associated with economic prosperity, better future health outcomes, and overall benefits to population health, according to the 2022 KIDS COUNT report. It is essential that we continue to dig deeper into the trends of graduation and dropout among our students, and particularly for those historically placed the furthest from opportunities. See CDE’s 2022 graduation and dropout data, and read Chalkbeat Colorado’s article for additional analysis. 

Additional background 

The four-year graduation rate is calculated by adding three years to the school year that a student begins ninth grade, not including those completing with a non-diploma certificate or High School Equivalency Diploma. The CDE defines a student who has dropped out as someone who “leaves school…before completion of a high school diploma or its equivalent…who does not transfer to another public or private school or enroll in an approved home study program.” The dropout rate is calculated by dividing this number by the number of students who were in membership any time during the year, so it incorporates students who are not completing school within four years. 

Lauren Hecht

About Lauren Hecht

Lauren Hecht is the Digital Communications and Policy Associate for the Colorado Children’s Campaign. She is a co-editor of KidsFlash and the coordinator of our social media platforms and website. She provides strategic policy, advocacy, and development support to the organization through digital and print communications, multimedia campaigns, community outreach, and engagement efforts. Lauren graduated from Colorado College with a degree in Political Science and minors in Latin American Studies and Art Studio.