May 4, 2018: Quebec has lowest high school graduation rate in North America

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Quebec has lowest high school graduation rate in North America

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Wikipedia Commons

When a bachelors degree has become the standard to get a good job, one location in the North American continent lags behind in their high school graduation rate. Only 64 percent of public high school students graduate in the Canadian province of Quebec according to The Institut du Quebec studyreleased on Tuesday, May 1, 2018,, in partnership with the Conference Board of Canada and HEC Montréal. Mia Homsy, the director of the Institut du Québec co-wrote the study with economist Simon Savard. While the number only rises to 69 percent when private school students are counted. The study looked at the graduation rates for students that complete their studies within a five-year period divided between public and private schools and overall going back to 2008 through 2015. When looking at the public school numbers Quebec, it has the lowest graduation rate in the entire continent, Canada, and the United States.

Quebec’s high school system is different than anywhere else in Canada and the US. Students start in grade seven or second one and go to grade 11 or secondary 5, a full grade less than us the norm. This is because before entering university in the province, high school graduates are required to attend a junior college called Cegep where they can take either the pre-university stream or a career diploma. Additionally, Quebec’s school system is not only divided by public or private or in the US charter schools but by language where students either go to an English or French system, with the majority in the French as it is the provinces official language. The graduation rates are greatly affected by the language disparities.

The study found that in Quebec that the overall graduation rate was between 68 and 69 percent, with 64 percent graduating within five years in the public school system and nearly 84 percent from private schools. In the last ten years, Quebec’s rates have dropped from 65 to 64 percent, while neighboring province Ontario’s rate increased from 72 to 84 percent. Ontario has instituted a number of reforms that have contributed to their increased rate including starting school at four-years-old while making attendance mandatory until 18 the age of students graduating grade 12 and requiring teachers to continue their education. During high school, they have made it easier for students who fail to redo just a part of the subject with a credit-recovery program. They also have a hands-on learning program and the option to take specialized courses, which keeps students interested. Students are the most at risk of dropping out in grades 9 and 10.

Quebec argues that they have determined their graduation rate is 71 percent for 2014 according to their calculations. They are also objecting to the comparisons with Ontario. One of the reasons is the different marks required to pass in Quebec it is 60 percent versus 50 percent in Ontario. Education Minister Sébastien Proulx was angered by the report. Proulx told the press, “I’m not saying these distinctions justify anything. What I’m saying is that you have to compare apples to apples.”

The overall public high school graduation rate for Canada is 77 percent. The graduation rate in Quebec is 8 percent lower than the next province Saskatchewan, whose rate is 72 percent. In addition to Ontario, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick all have an 84 percent graduation rate. Canada and its provinces all pale to the graduation rates in the US. High school graduation rates in the US have reached an all-time high, in the 2014-15 year, the same last year in the Canadian study, the rate was 83.2 percent for public high school graduates who complete their studies in the normal four-year period. There numbered have been rising in the US for the last five years reported. The highest rate was in Iowa with 90.8 percent, while the lowest was in the District of Columbia at 68.5 percent, which was still four points higher than Quebec’s public school rate. The rate increased to 84 percent in 2016.

Unlike in the United States where graduation rates are determined more by poverty, in Quebec language, gender and disability are the factors that are lowering the rate. Only half of the boys that go to high school graduate. The biggest problem is with male students, where only 51.4 percent graduate within five years as of 2014. Quebec public schools have the largest disparity between the genders, 14 percent, with 71 percent of females compared to 57 percent of males graduating by the time they are 18. The national average in Canada of students, who complete their studies by age 19 since there is a grade 12, is 81 percent of females, and 71 percent of males. While in Ontario, it’s 87 percent of females and 82 percent of males graduating high school.

The numbers shrink in Quebec, when looking at the students graduating on time, to 67 percent of females and only 51 percent of male students. The differences increase when comparing the school language systems. In the Anglophone board, there are the largest graduation rates in the public system with 80 percent of female students and 70 percent of males. Proulx also believes French parents are not emphasizing the importance of education enough which is why students do fare as well in the Francophone schools. The education minister told the press, “We need people to get involved. Historically, on the francophone side, yes we’ve had school dropouts but there is also a parental-dropout problem. It is not valorized enough. We have to look at ourselves in the eye as a society.”

Disabilities is another factor. While only 31 percent of students with disabilities graduate although they represent 30 percent of all students in the province. Special needs students also face a gender disparity with 70 percent being males. One of the problems leading todropouts is the province does not mainstream the students enough.

One of the reasons that the rate is so low in public schools is because the provincial government continues to cut their funding, with 1.5 billion less in the budget from 2010 to 2016. Quebec spends less on its students than Ontario. The teachers’ union Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE) commented to the press, “How could the authors of the report claim that the chronic underfunding of the public school system in Quebec hasn’t hurt Quebec students.” The federation represents 34,000 teachers. The teachers saying they are teaching with austerity measures. This is despite the province investing 1.8 billion to increase the graduation rate to 85 by 2030.

The co-author of the study and the director of the Institut du Québec, Mia Homsy thinks Quebec needs to do more or else they will continue to lag behind. Homsy told the Globe and Mail, “We have to do a better job of following our students, we have to rethink every decision we’ve made in the past decade. Something’s not working but nobody knows what the problem is. It’s a black box. And as long as advanced data are lacking, Quebec’s long-term efforts to catch up will be incomplete.” Among the basic suggestions, Quebec needs to cut class sizes, make kindergarten for four-year-olds olds mandatory, integrate special needs students, and keep better records of data for starters.

Although, high school students in Quebec do not complete their studies in five years, most eventually receive it. Within seven years the graduation rate is 80 percent and among those aged 25 to 34, 89 percent have a degree. Still, Quebec is behind British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, where the provinces have a 93 percent high school graduation rate by 34-years-old. However, the later one completes their studies the fewer opportunities for higher education and reaching one’s earning potential. Quebec has one consolation, the dropout rate has decreased from 20 percent in 1999-2000 to 12 percent in 2015.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

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Education December 6, 2017: US high school graduation rates at all-time high

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EDUCATION

US high school graduation rates at all-time high

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

American high school students are focusing on their studies more than ever before and their graduation rates are the highest in history. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics released graduation data for the class of 2015–16, which found that 84.1 percent of students graduated in four years the highest rate in American history. The 84 percent was just shy of a percentage point more than the previous year’s rate of 83.2 percent. The numbers continue a five-year trend that saw increases in graduation rates for every demographic group in the country.

According to the data, every group reached their highest graduation rates. Black students’ rates rose 1.8 percent to 76.4, those with English as a second language rose the same amount to 66.9. Hispanic students’ graduation rose also an impressive 1.5 percent to 79.3 percent. Additionally, students from economically challenged background rose the same rate up to a 77.6 percent graduation rate. Native student’s graduation rates also improved to 71.9 percent.

Students with disabilities still, had the lowest graduation rates with only 65.5 percent graduating, proving that more has to be done to help the group graduate. White students, however, were not the demographic group with the highest rates. Despite their 88.3 graduation rate, White students came in second to Asian students who have the nation best rates with 90.8 percent of students graduating high school.

Phillip Lovell, the vice president for policy and advocacy at the Alliance for Excellent Education
Was pleased with the results. Lovell told Edweek, “This shows we are still heading in the right direction. You can argue that the pace of improvement is slower than we’d like it to be, but there are more graduates this year than last. That’s a good thing.” Lovell was especially impressed that the number rose across the board for all demographic groups, saying it was “super important.” Lovell added, “We don’t want to increase the national grad rate and leave behind kids who are struggling to be served.”

Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute credits President George W. Bush bipartisan education achievement the No Child Left Behind Act for the rise in rates with are now seeing. The test and assessment focused law education law was passed in 2001, Bush’s first year in office. Petrilli commented to Edweek, “There is a plausible case to be made that the education system is doing a better job for more of these kids, especially for disadvantaged subgroups.”

Despite the graduation increase of five percent overall in the last five years, and for all groups, there are still problems and graduation gaps. Black students lag behind most ethnic groups, with the exception of Native students, seeing a 14 percent difference with Asian students, who are at the top of all groups. The economically disadvantaged are also remain more educationally disadvantaged than their wealthier peers with a six-point difference between the two group’s graduation rates.

The graduation rates might be improving, but college readiness still has a lot to be desired. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEP) remains unchanged or has declining rates when it comes to reading and math. Additionally, students are not meeting benchmarks for the SAT and ACT college entrance exams.

The Washington Post reports the problems are exacerbated by some school districts who are using questionable means to “inflate” their graduation rates. The Post explains, “Some districts have used questionable methods to get students to the finish line, including softening grading scales and using credit recovery programs, which allow students to take abbreviated versions of courses to make up for failing grades.” Robert Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University researcher says that rate inflation is still a problem that needs to be combated. Balfanz told Edweek, “We can devalue anything if we give it away. We need to be sure these kids are earning honest diplomas.”

The data includes a break down for each state and also by demographic data. Iowa topped the country with the highest graduation rate at 91.3 percent; in second place is New Jersey with 90.1 percent. Iowa and New Jersey are the only two states with over 90 percent of the students graduating in four years. In third place is West Virginia with 89.8 percent. At the bottom, Washington, the District of Columbia has the worst rates with an average of only 69.2 percent. DC is followed by New Mexico with a 71 percent graduation rate, while the third worst state is Oregon with a 74.8 graduation rate.

Despite the highest graduation rates in history, the US is hardly a world leader and still lags behinds many of the world’s democratic countries. According to older Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data, the US ranks out of the top 20 at only the 21st position in the world. Portugal and Slovenia each tie for the highest graduation rate with 96 percent of the students graduating. Finland, Japan, and the United Kingdom round out the top five each has a rate of above 90 percent. The UK has a 92 percent graduation rate, while fellow North American country Canada also ranked higher than the US coming in the 20th position worldwide.

President Barack Obama emphasized increasing the high school graduation rates during his tenure. Starting in 2011, the Education Department under the Obama administration required all high schools to report their data in a “standardized way.” With the numbers, rising and steadily soaring to new heights in the latter part of Obama’s term, his administration saw the graduation rate increase according to the Washington Post “among its most important achievements in education.”

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Education July 17, 2017: Concordia University’s policies purposely delay graduation dates

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By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Concordia University is plagued with enrollment issues delaying students’ graduations and potentially ruining their prospects for graduate and professional school. Wikipedia Commons

We are now in the summer with this year’s convocation ceremonies celebrating university graduates just ended, while new incoming students anticipate the start of their higher education journey. However, how many students who start university end up at the finish line? The question is the reason why graduation rates are an important part of choosing a university, but some universities hide their problems. One such school is Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Concordia has long faced questions about their graduation rates, but now a reason has emerged, the University has been purposely pushing students to delay graduation.

An April 9, 2017, article by local Montreal radio station CJAD entitled “Over Enrollment Blamed for Class Crunch at Concordia” exposed that the university has over enrollment issues in key requirement courses. Instead of dealing with the longtime issue, undergraduate advisors are convincing students to delay graduation by taking a reduced course load, which ruins students’ graduate school prospects if they look to go outside of Concordia. The psychology department is not the only department experiencing these types of problems they happen elsewhere within the university. The issue is also not exclusively a problem plaguing undergraduate students, deterrence tactics also common at the graduate level.

The report by CJAD and authored by reporter Shuyee Lee delved into some of the reasons there are problems with Concordia graduation rates, over enrollment in courses and advisors telling students to take lighter course loads. In what has been going on “for years” unreported, students face problems enrolling in popular courses that are also part of the major or specialization requirements to graduate or even proceed with next level courses. The courses often offered once a year do not have enough spaces, filled up quickly, and have long waitlists, in the end, many students are shut out. Students have to take longer to graduate and fulfill their requirements. The even problem, the university’s cover-up, many academic advisors are trying to convince students to take lighter course loads, make the students believe it is better for their academic future to do so.

One of Concordia’s most popular majors, Psychology was highlighted in CJAD’s report. Student Paolo Drago, the representative for the Concordia’s Undergraduate Psychology Association spoke to CJAD about the problems within his department, he and fellow students face. Drago explained, “Some courses are only offered once a year, by a particular professor, so you can imagine people who want to take a specialization class that really caters to what they want to research or study, they might not be able to get into that class for a whole year because the class is full, it’s usually a class of 60 so they start lagging behind on the classes they want to take.”

Concordia might be able to keep students enrolled longer and garner additional fees, but it is to the academic detriment of its students. Delays in graduation, taking longer than the average time to complete a degree and taking lighter course loads are frowned at in graduate and professional applications. Students trying to be admitted into law, medicine, and graduate programs at other universities are having problems being admitted and the explanation, they were only listening to the advisor’s does not work. Drago told CJAD, “People are kind of blindsided when they start applying and they don’t get accepted, ‘Well, I did everything the academic advisor told me to do and it’s not paying dividends.’”

Instead of finding solutions, the university’s faculty and administration are denying that there are even any problems. Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota denied there are any over enrollment issues. Mota said, “There are a few programs where opening extra sections of a course is a challenge.” Still, the university plans to increase the minimum average for acceptance to their psychology program, and increase course sizes for the popular required courses. Nevertheless, what about the greater problems in other programs that was not part of CJAD’s report?

This is not the first time Concordia faced a controversy about graduation rates. In 2014, Concordia faced a controversy when the Montreal’s French language paper La Presse wrote an expose claiming a drastic fall in the university undergraduate graduation rate. Concordia quickly pressured La Presse to retract the story. In the original story published on January 3, 2014, entitled “ PLUS DE LA MOITIÉ DES ÉTUDIANTS DE CONCORDIA NE DÉCROCHENT PAS LEUR DIPLÔME “ reporter Hugo Pilon-Larose claimed that only 48 percent of students who started degrees in 2006 had completed them by 2012. The number was a fall from the 75 percent, who had started their degrees in 2001 and finished them by 2007. The troubling number was supposed because of the higher proportion of international students and part-time students.

The university was outraged, almost immediately La Presse was forced to retract their original article. Another article was published four days later on January 7, 2014, entitled, “Taux d’obtention de diplôme: Concordia maintient le cap” and written by Pilon-Larose. The New correction article now claimed that Concordia’s 2007 graduation rate was 75.5 percent and 2012, and it was 74.2 percent for students who commenced their studies six years before. Benoit-Antoine Bacon, vice-president, and vice-president of academic affairs at Concordia University boasted about the rate in the revision. Bacon said, “Our graduation rate is close to or even above the national average. We are very satisfied. But we can always do better, and we are working hard to increase it. But to do so, we face financial and academic challenges.”

In comparison, the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) a comprehensive school like Concordia had a 68.7 rate in 2007 and 71.3 percent in 2012. McGill University and Université de Montréal (UdeM), the city’s medical and doctoral schools had higher rates. McGill had 84 percent in 2012 for students starting in 2006, lower than in 2007 when they had 86 percent graduation rate for students who commenced their studies 2001. Université de Montréal (UdeM) graduation during the same period dropped only slightly from 80.2 percent in 2007 to 79.4 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, Concordia countered with a correction to LaPresse’s story. The university claimed that LaPresse compared full-time rates from 1999 to part-time rates for 2012 leading to the discrepancies. Concordia indicated that the full-time rate is down only slightly from 74.5 percent to 74.2 percent whereas for all cycles is down 75% to 75.9%.

The truth is the graduation rate is much higher than La Presse’s number but not nearly as high as Concordia claims. University rankings claim the number is in fact, nearly 5 percent lower that Concordia boasts. Maclean’s Magazine profiled Concordia in 2016 for their annual university ranking where Concordia held the tenth position in the Comprehensive University category. According to Maclean’s Concordia has only a 70.5 percent graduation rate, but an 85.9 percent retention rate, showing students keep going and going at Concordia without completing their degrees.

Aside from clarifying the La Presse controversy, Concordia does not publish graduation rates only the number of graduates each year and the number of students enrolled each academic year.
In 2011–12, there were 35,848 undergraduates, 23,390 full-time and 12,458 part-time enrolled at the university. There were also 7,314 graduate students, 5,294 full-time and 2,020 part-time. Meanwhile, that year 4,889 undergraduate received the diplomas, and 1,593 graduating students graduated. In 2015–16, there were 35,616 undergraduate students; the divisions between full and part-time were not disclosed. Meanwhile, 5,213 undergraduates received a diploma and 1,901 graduate students. Although there are more students graduating in the previous academic year, no data was released to indicate when they started their studies and how long it took them to graduate.

Concordia does fare well in world university rankings, partly because they are a comprehensive university focusing or some professional and graduate degrees, but are not a full research, medical doctoral university. In Canada, according to Maclean’s Concordia is 10th in the comprehensive category. On the world stage, the university cannot compete with Canada’s bigger names.

According to the 2018 Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings released in June, Concordia is 431–400, having moved up 30 spots. In comparison, the University of Toronto is now Canada’s top university in the QS ranking replacing McGill coming at number 31. McGill is now second in Canada at number 32. Although McGill ranks first in Canadian rankings in international ones the University of Toronto usual takes that honor. Canada’s third University in the top 100, the University of British Columbia is now number 52. In Canada, Concordia was in 16th place of all Canadian schools.

Meanwhile, in the Times Higher Education’s (THE) 2017 World University Rankings, Concordia came at between 501–600 th position. The school did better in the 2017 Young University Rankings, were ranked in the 101–150 th position. The University of Toronto again topped the Canadian universities on the list. The University of Toronto took the Number 22 position. The University of British Columbia was tied for 36, while McGill University was number 42.

The revelation of Concordia’s deterrence methods came close to home. I had two degrees from the neighboring McGill University before entering Concordia University. I had a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies before starting a second Masters degree in Judaic Studies with a thesis, at Concordia’s Religion Department from the start I was pushed to relax my course load. I came with plans to move full speed ahead and finish the program in two years and then on for a doctorate, but at every turn, there were obstacles that slowed me down. The following is my own experiences and observances while I was a student at Concordia.

At McGill, I completed a Masters degree by course and finishing the 48-credit degree in two years by taking a full load of four courses each semester. In Concordia, I was cautioned to take only two courses a required seminar and independent course in my first semester. In my first semester, I tried to stay strict with deadlines but saw professors being lax about deadlines as if it was not unusual, and it was not. For final research papers in seminars and independent courses my professors routinely recommended continuances that lasted up to two months into the next semester. With weekly readings and some short writing assignments throughout the semester it becomes easy to need the extra time a complete a research paper for a course, and if you start down that path, you continually need the extra time.

The research papers I completed for each course were sometimes upward to 50 pages in final presentation form. With the sheer amount of research for the papers plus reading throughout the semester, it is easy to take advantage of light course loads and extensions because they are approved and even advised by the faculty and your program advisor. Students fall into the trap, made so easy by your department but it ends up being destructive to graduating on time and realizing your academic goals.

Another unreported problem in Concordia is the amount of time it takes graduate students to complete their degree. A warning sign was hearing how long some of the students in the Religion Department were taking for their degrees, an average four years for the masters and upward to ten years for the doctorate. Concordia gives longer maximums for completing a graduate degree than neighboring McGill. The longer maximum time for full-time students is a leading indicator is would take longer to complete the degrees. The masters’ degree I was enrolled in the Religion Department resembled more of a mini-doctorate program at that time, with not only a thesis but also two comprehensive exams, it was impossible to complete it in the usual two years a Master’s degree should take. The degree has now been curtailed with the comprehensive exams removed as a requirement.

Concordia’s graduate programs have students paying a set schedule of fees regardless of the number of credits a student takes each semester. Therefore, one can take two courses and still be a full-time student. After the degree is paid, and if a student has not completed their degree they pay continuance fees. In comparison to Concordia’s, fee schedule, at McGill even in graduate study students pay by the number of credits per semester. In the end, after the three years, I completely paid off my degree plus three semesters of continuance fees, but with only 18 credits completed on my transcript.

Another way to deter students was making them repeat courses they had previously received credit for at another university. I faced another added burden, unlike the majority of students in my program I came with a Masters degree already under my belt, something the department repeatedly tried to forget. Whereas in McGill if a student already completed a research methods course, they were exempted from the requirement, it was the opposite in Concordia. I had taken an entire degree on research methodology, librarians are expert researchers, the ones helping students conduct research and find sources in the academic libraries, but the department was insistent I take a repetitive course or would not graduate.

The research methods course consisted of visits to the libraries and archives to hear about how to research. During my MLIS programs, I worked in libraries. Prior to entering Concordia, I had just put on an exhibition of a collection I cataloged in Canadian Jewish history as part of work I did at McGill’s University Archives. The department ignored that I completed a degree in research at the nation’s preeminent university. In my experience, the entire cycle was one I could not escape except leave the program without graduating. Therefore, after three years, 18 credits, an unsubmitted completed thesis, and a 3.95 CGPA I left Concordia’s MA in Judaic Studies program.

Like CJAD’s report on the psychology department’s deterrence methods, my experience was more the fault of the Religion Department than the university’s policies although they did facilitate them since departments have more control over graduate students and programs. As I observed a majority of the graduate students accepted to the Masters and even the Doctorate program came from different disciplines. I came from a related one history and was focusing on American Jewish history, but did not have Judaic or Jewish studies major beforehand. Other students came from even more different degrees and disciplines. Sometimes the students were required to take extra courses to obtain a background other times not, like me.

A majority in the department were also mature students returning to school after years in other professions. A minority were students continuing through the different academic cycles, I was one of the youngest in the program despite having completed another Masters before. I frequently saw favoritism for the mature students. Favoritism, in general, ran rampant, and it had nothing to do with grades or GPAs, rather personality but also research interests. Unlike psychology, religion is not usually a popular discipline; especially Judaic studies where there were only a handful of graduate students. University politics plays a factor, allocation of funding from the university depends on departmental enrollment. Promises of fellowships and awards attracted students like me for the money but mostly the prestige and honor. Keeping students in the department longer makes a larger student population. All these factors and some external ones were a recipe for students to take longer completing their degrees.

The reveal in CJAD’s report just touches on advisors recommending reduced course loads. Unfortunately, the advice is even more detrimental to graduate programs. Concordia’s policies do everything possible to slow down graduate students making them spend double the time and money. Departments are pushing students to take longer to graduate to increase their number of students and make sure the university collects more fees and that they get larger budgets. Instead of finding solutions, the administration chooses to ignore or better yet shut down any report that might indicate a problem at the university. LaPresse quickly withdrew their story in 2014 and CJAD’s report in April never went further with a followed up or covered by any other news outlet.

As their graduate rates suggest, maybe a majority of Concordia University’s students eventually graduate, others are fed up with the high costs, lengthy times and slow career movement. Either way, students are the ones that lose out from the university and department politics and policies. Longer times to graduate at the undergraduate or graduate level give students wishing to continue their studies little options outside of Concordia, which seems an intentional part of the cycle. For those who discontinue their studies, they are left few choices to continue graduate school, except return to Concordia or years of explaining why they did not complete their degree. Now at least thanks to CJAD’s reporting students and ex-students do not feel alone, it a common unresolved occurrence at Concordia one that desperately needs remedying.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Education December 17, 2015: US high school graduation rates at record high, still lag behind global averages

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EDUCATION

US high school graduation rates at record high, still lag behind global averages

By Bonnie K. Goodman

December 17, 2015, 5:41 PM MST

The United States recorded their best high school graduation rates, but the country is still behind the rates of most western countries, Dec. 15, 2015
The United States recorded their best high school graduation rates, but the country is still behind the rates of most Western countries, Dec. 15, 2015
Photo by Pool/Getty Images