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Some improvement in District graduation rate in 2013; college success still limited

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

A decade ago, it wasn’t far off to say that in the School District of Philadelphia, only half the students graduate.

At least now you can say two-thirds.

The District’s six-year graduation rate — the percentage of students who started high school in Philadelphia District schools in 2007 and earned their diplomas by 2013 — has climbed to 67 percent. That figure includes hundreds of students who don’t graduate on time, but persist through a fifth or a sixth year of high school to earn their diplomas.

The four-year graduation rate remains at 64 percent. This graduation rate for first-time freshmen from 2009 was the same as it was for 2008’s freshmen.

Over the last five years, the six- and four-year graduation rates have climbed 7 and 8 percentage points, respectively. And more of these graduates are enrolling in college.

But the six-year rate is still far shy of the 80 percent target set by Mayor Nutter shortly after taking office. The mayor’s stated goal was to cut the dropout rate in half by 2014.

The latest graduation and college-going numbers were announced Tuesday at a meeting of the Philadelphia Council for College and Career Success, a committee of local leaders who oversee city youth initiatives involving education and employment and report annually to the mayor.

Nutter found encouragement in the numbers.

"I am pleased to see that, despite the very challenging economic circumstances, we continue to make progress toward our education goals," he said.

"I am sure this is due to the concerted efforts of many people — teachers, families, students and administrators, who understand, as I do, that without a college degree, many roads are not open to you, and without a high school diploma, your chance of holding a job in your lifetime that will earn you a family-sustaining wage is greatly diminished."

Besides boosting the graduation rate, Nutter’s other high-profile education goal is to increase college degree attainment, and on that front, the numbers are a mixed bag. While college-going rates are up, degree-earning is not.

For School District graduates from 2012, 54 percent started in college within one year of finishing high school. That’s a 9-point improvement in the last four years.

But just 35 percent of college-goers from the School District had earned a bachelor’s degree within six years of finishing high school. That is down 2 points from the rate in 2009. And the percentage of college-goers earning an associate’s degree within six years has been stuck at 5 percent.

Put it all together, and the overall picture of postsecondary achievement is still far from rosy. In all, barely one-third of District students are finishing high school and going on to college in a timely manner. Little more than a third of that group of college-goers earn a four-year degree.

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