New Alliance Report Uncovers Gaps in Access to College- and Career-Ready Diplomas

Of the nearly 100 different types of high school diplomas that are awarded across all fifty states and the District of Columbia, less than half prepare students for success in college and a career, according to a new report by the Alliance for Excellent Education. And while the national high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, the rate at which students earn these college- and career-ready (CCR) diplomas is substantially lower, especially among students from low-income families, students of color, and other traditionally underserved students.

“Not all high school diplomas are created equal,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. “Sadly, the students with the least opportunity who must overcome the greatest challenges are usually the ones receiving the substandard diploma, setting them up for a rude awakening when they enter college or the workforce.”

The Alliance report, Paper Thin? Why All High School Diplomas Are Not Created Equal, provides a state-by-state analysis of the different types of diplomas that states awarded to the Class of 2014 and evaluates whether each adequately prepares its recipient for college and a career.

According to the report, twenty-three states had multiple diploma options. Of those, only nine (Arkansas, California, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Texas, and Virginia) offered at least one CCR diploma and tracked which students were earning which diploma. Based on data from these nine states, the Alliance report finds drastic differences between state-reported high school graduation rates and the percentage of students earning a CCR diploma. For example, Nevada posted a 70 percent high school graduation rate for the Class of 2014, but only 29.8 percent of graduates earned a CCR diploma.

Traditionally underserved students are less likely to graduate with a CCR diploma than their peers, the report finds. Among different student subgroups, gaps in earning CCR diplomas were largest for African American students, which reached as high as 33.9 percentage points, and students with disabilities, which was as high as 63.1 percentage points.

The report offers several federal, state, and local policy recommendations to help every state establish high school graduation requirements that are aligned with college and a career. They include the following:

  • States with CCR diplomas should make the CCR diploma the default diploma for all students.
  • States, school districts, and individual middle and high schools with multiple diploma options should track and publicly report the percentage of students earning each type of diploma and break out the data by student subgroup (low-income, African American, Latino, special education, etc.). Such data will enable parents and the public to see which diploma options best prepare students for postsecondary education.
  • School districts and middle and high schools should educate parents and students about the long-term postsecondary outcomes of students who select less rigorous diploma options.

Paper Thin? Why All High School Diplomas Are Not Created Equal is available at