National high school graduation rates rose by 6.9 percent in 2020.

Iowa State researchers found national high school graduation rates rose in 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students lost their jobs resulting in higher school attendance rates.

John Winters, associate professor in economics, and two graduate students, Kunwon Ahn and Jun Yeong Lee, created a working paper on this research, which is a part of an elongated publishing process between peers and professionals.

Even with supporting evidence against the success of online students compared to face-to-face instruction, the study found the high school graduation rate rose by 6.9 percent in 2020 compared to other years.

“However, our results do not imply that no students were harmed. It is also important to recognize that the quality of education was likely reduced,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

From an economic standpoint, Winters said he thinks of education as an investment. Some high school students see a larger benefit to receive pay at a preliminary job and choose to pursue that full time instead of completing school.

As many young people lost their jobs over the pandemic, it removed outside distractions and motivations. Winters determined this to be one of the factors that helped increase the graduation rate.

Education as an economic concept is a subject area that has become increasingly more popular among Iowa State researchers, Winters said.


From left to right: Kunwon Ahn, Jun Yeong Lee and John Winters.

“I thought it was valuable to study how the aftermath of the pandemic, which this generation had never experienced before, was delivered to our future generations,” Lee wrote in an email.

After COVID-19 numbers and death rates were reported, Winters said this finding was a silver lining in a time when everything was seemingly falling apart.

Seeing the numbers of graduation rates rise, Winters said, was “a momentary catching of our breath.”

The research team wants to continue to move through the process of finalizing the research and paper, but it could be years before it is officially released.

According to Leah Silverberg for Afterschool Alliance, Iowa had already reached the 90 percent national graduation rate goal in 2018. In 2020, Iowa’s historical high school graduation rate is 91.6 percent, according to the Iowa Department of Education.

Winters said he was not sure what to expect in terms of results when he began research for the paper, but wasn’t surprised when high school graduation rates were found to rise this year.

“When the economy dried up, obviously a lot changes and those who thought of dropping out and going full time into the workforce found that it wasn’t an option,” Winters said.

(1) comment

Serena Parker

I think that the reason isn't only in losing jobs. Students have more time for more deep understanding and learning of the subject. A lot of them use additional resources, such as and numerous informational databases. A lot of services provide assignment help, which also increases academic performance.

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