On-Time High School Graduation Rates and Future Social Determinants of Health

By Scott Richter and Dr. Patrick Jones

Zig Ziglar, mostly known for being a motivational speaker said, “Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.”

This quote can arguably best be achieved through education. In a nutshell, by improving one’s education, it should also be expected real-world opportunities will improve. Real-world opportunities created from achieving higher levels of education, among others, above average personal or household income of an area directly relates what is affordable housing and where is it located.

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODHP), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been tracking factors making us sick for more than three decades through the Healthy People initiative. These are not necessarily directly traceable to viruses or other contagions. Rather, ODHP singles out environmental factors such as things we have access to, and of these, what provides stability, growth, and safety? On the opposite of the coin, what are the things we do not have access to that are negatively affecting us?

ODHP’s five specific social determinant areas (the key issues) and underlying factors are:

  • Economic Stability: employment, food insecurity, housing instability, and poverty.
  • Education: early childhood education and development, enrollment in higher education, high school graduation, language, and literacy.
  • Social and Community Context: civic participation, discrimination, incarceration, social cohesion.
  • Health and Health Care: access to health care, access to primary care, and health literacy.
  • Neighborhood and Built Environment: access to foods supporting healthy eating patterns, crime and violence, environmental conditions, quality of housing.

ODHP describes these social determinants of health as “the ‘place’ and the impact of ‘place’ on health”.

Economic Stability, Health and Health Care, and Neighborhood and Built Environment are needs-based, that is, they are things people need to access or need to avoid so they can live their healthiest lives. Improving one’s education is foundational to creating new opportunities in other determinant areas.

While graduating from high school “on-time” is not the “be all, end all” measurement to get into college, it does indicate a group of students perhaps best prepared to enter college compared to extended high school graduation rates. On-time students had no academic setbacks or were able to overcome minor setbacks while the extended rate are students who had at least had to register for a fifth year, even if it was for one class during the first quarter of the school year only.

“On-time” high school graduation is defined as graduating within 4-years of starting the 9th-grade with a regular high school diploma.

Looking at the On-Time High School Graduation Rate indicator on Benton-Franklin Trends, we see during the 2019-20 school year, the on-time high school graduation rate in:

  • Benton & Franklin Counties combined was 83.9%, increasing from 74.9% during the 2010-11 school year.
  • Benton County was 84.9%, increasing from 77.8% during the 2010-11 school year.
  • Franklin County was 82.1%, increasing from 68.2% during the 2010-11 school year.
  • Washington State was 82.9%, increasing from 76.6% during the 2010-11 school year.
  • The City of Kennewick was 79.5%, increasing from 73.6% during the 2010-11 school year.
  • The City of Pasco was 80.5%, increasing from 64.9% during the 2010-11 school year.
  • The City of Richland was 92.1%, increasing from 80.8% during the 2010-11 school year.

Each location offered includes public schools within its geographical boundaries. For example, Kennewick High School is included in the combined counties, Benton County, and the City of Kennewick views, while Hanford High School is included in the combined counties and Benton County views.

The main takeaway is the on-time high school graduation rate increased for all locations from the 2010-11 school year at beginning of this series.

Although the latest academic year available in the series is 2019-20, these data are the most current available having been released recently. 

This indicator measures the percent of a cohort of first-time, 9th-grade, public high school students in a particular school year, who graduate on-time as measured by the adjusted cohort graduation rate.

The only changes made to the cohort headcount is adjusting it by adding any student immigrating from another country or any student transferring into the cohort after 9th-grade from a different high school. Subtractions to the cohort occur when any student transfers out, emigrates to another country, or dies.

While the social and economic benefits of graduating from high school is not likely anything new to the reader, hopefully when viewed through a social determinants of health lens it helps provide a little more insight into the importance of an education – the great equalizer.