Using administrative data to estimate graduation rates: Challenges, Proposed solutions and their pitfalls.


  • Joydeep Roy Economic Policy Institute and Georgetown University
  • Lawrence Mishel Economic Policy Institute



High school graduation, measurement, Common Core of Data


In recent years there has been a renewed interest in understanding the levels and trends in high school graduation in the U.S. A big and influential literature has argued that the “true” high school graduation rate remains at an unsatisfactory level, and that the graduation rates for minorities (Blacks and Hispanics) are alarmingly low. In this paper we take a closer look at the different measures of high school graduation which have recently been proposed and which yield such low estimates of graduation rates. We argue that the nature of the variables in the Common Core of Data, the dataset maintained by the U.S. Department of Education that is the main source for all of the new measures, requires caution in calculating graduation rates, and the adjustments that have been proposed often impart significant downward bias to the estimates.


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Author Biographies

Joydeep Roy, Economic Policy Institute and Georgetown University

Joydeep Roy is an economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an affiliated professor at Georgetown Public Policy Institute. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University. His primary research interests include public economics and public policy, economics of education, labor economics, economic development and political economy. His current research focuses on school choice and accountability, merit pay for teachers, school finance and adequacy issues, higher education issues, and economic development issues relating to education and voting. In recent work, he has investigated the relative efficacy of charter schools, the impact of secession of states on voting patterns and welfare, and the effect of a unique policy experiment abolishing the teaching of English as a subject area in India.

Lawrence Mishel, Economic Policy Institute

Lawrence Mishel joined the Economic Policy Institute in 1987. Prior to that, he had taught at Cornell University and was an economist for United Auto Workers. He received his Ph.D. in economics from University of Wisconsin at Madison. He has researched, written, and spoken widely on the economy and economic policy as it affects middle- and low-income families. He is principal author of a major research volume, The State of Working America (published every even-numbered year since 1988) which provides a comprehensive overview of the U.S. labor market and living standards. A nationally recognized economist, Mishel is frequently called on to testify and provide economic briefings to members of Congress and appears regularly as a commentator on the economy in print and broadcast media.




How to Cite

Roy, J., & Mishel, L. (2008). Using administrative data to estimate graduation rates: Challenges, Proposed solutions and their pitfalls. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 16, 11.