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Graduation Rate Leaves Out A Quarter Of High School Completers

Every year, thousands of students fail to get a standard Florida high school diploma despite staying in school. Those students aren’t considered dropouts, but they aren’t counted as graduates either. Instead  those students are falling into a bit of “diploma limbo.”

According to the federal government, Florida’s graduation rate is around 74.5 percent, but that doesn’t mean a quarter of students dropped out.

“If you get a special diploma, a GED or a certificate of completion, you’re not counted as a graduate in the graduation rate. And that’s a lot of the folks in that other 25 percent who are not dropouts—they’ve got a credential, but it’s not a standard diploma," says the Florida Department of Education’s Jane Fletcher. 

Not every student who who completes high school is counted as a graduate. Students who receive credentials other than the state’s standard diploma are placed in a category called “percent not graduating.” More than 39,000 students, almost 21-percent, fell into this category. The GED is the most popular option for students returning to school. And people of all ages get them. Take 64-year-old Edmund Kelly. He moved from Georgia to Florida back in 1975 and retired from a job with the City of Tallahassee:

"You know how it is, when you’re young and hard-headed. My grandmother, she raised me, and she said ‘I’d rather you go down there with your Uncle than see you keep being in trouble. It was more than I could handle ‘cause she was about ready to leave out so she turned me over to him.," Kelly said.

Kelly, who was part of the crew that built Florida’s newer Capitol building says he was 16 when he stopped going to school, and even lied about his age to get jobs. At the other end of the spectrum is 16 year old Mycayla Rain Bryant, who transferred out of her charter school and into the Leon County Adult Education Center:

“I figured it would be a long time before I finished school and I wanted to hurry up so I could help my mom, because she had me when she was in her mid- 30’s, so she’s kind of older now, so I want to give her some helping hands because my dad doesn’t really do much," she said.  

Most of Center’s students are like Mycayla. They’re transfers or former dropouts and are usually between 16 and 25 years old. Leon’s Adult Education Center awards about 300 GED-based diplomas a year.  And while it’s good credential to have, it’s not quite the same has having that standard high school diploma. For one thing, the changes of getting into a university with a GED are slim:

“Most of our students attend a community college. We’ve had students that wanted to go into the military. They’d graduate from here with a state of Florida high school diploma, enter community college and earn 15 hours, and then they’re military eligible....So they aren’t eligible straight out though.  I’m saying right now, no," says Barbara Van Kamp, the school’s principal.

Last year, 2100 students received GED’s, and they count as non-graduates. Also in that category, are the more than 34,000, students who either took too long to graduate or didn’t complete all the state’s requirements—like passing the FCAT or end of course exams.  Also not counted in Florida’s federal graduation rate are students with disabilities who earn “Special diplomas”. And that leaves a whole lot of kids, almost a quarter of them, seemingly in diploma limbo.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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