Pandemic has positive effect on high school completion rates, study finds

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AMES, Iowa (WHO) — A new study from Iowa State University shows the pandemic has led to a boost in high school graduation rates.

The Iowa State Department of Economics studied data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to track both traditional and alternative high school seniors. 

Researchers found a 7% increase in high school completion among the class of 2020. 

The study’s lead professor, John Winters, said one factor was limited distractions as extracurricular activities were canceled, allowing more time for students to focus on schoolwork.

He also said the COVID-19 pandemic created a devastating loss in economic opportunities, eliminating the option for high school seniors to drop out and go into the workforce. 

“Some of these young people that may have been kind of at the margins of ‘do I finish or do I not,’ they didn’t really have going to the labor market as a very viable option,” Winter said. “They decided to stick to school and finish their high school diploma.”

Winters said the pandemic has triggered a severe recession, with the U.S. seeing the highest unemployment rate since 1948. 

According to the Hamilton Project, an economic policy initiative, youth tends to work against people in a recession. 

For example, during the Great Recession, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the national unemployment rate among those 16 and older doubled from 5% to 10%, peaking in October 2009 despite the recession’s official end. 

However, with the U.S. learning to adjust to the pandemic, Winters said, it’s unclear whether the class of 2021 will mimic the high school completion rates of this year. 

“I think it’ll probably still be a weak economy, but not as weak as it was in April, May of 2020. And so how do I think that’s going to play out in terms of high school completion?” Winters said. “Again, a lot of uncertainty, but my best guess is that we probably relative to the pre-pandemic years, we probably won’t see a big increase for 2021.” 

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