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Minnesota's 2021 graduation rate drops slightly

The state department of education says the 0.5% decline reflects the impact of the pandemic and growing need for increased support.

MINNEAPOLIS — More than 83% of Minnesota high school students from the class of 2021 graduated in four years, something the state's department of education is celebrating despite that number marking a slight decline from previous years. 

On Tuesday,  State Education Commissioner Dr. Heather Mueller released the 2021 graduation data which indicates 57,137 students, 83.3% of the class, grabbed their diplomas on time. That's a 0.5% point drop when compared to the class of 2020, but Mueller notes that 2020-2021 was the first full school year impacted by the COVID pandemic and the challenges it delivered. 

“The class of 2021 faced incredibly difficult circumstances in their final years of high school. I am extremely proud of our 2021 graduates and the educators, leaders, staff and families who helped them make it to graduation,” said Mueller in a released statement. “The slight decrease in our graduation rate reinforces how challenging the pandemic has been on our students. We remain committed to ensuring every single Minnesota student graduates from high school, whether that is in four years, five years, six years or more.”

State leaders say the drop in the 2021 graduation rate was partially driven by a 0.3% increase in the dropout rate. Data shows 3,594 students from earlier classes earned their diplomas in 2021, collecting their diplomas five, six or seven years after beginning high school.

Bigger picture, Minnesota’s four-year graduation rate has been trending upward over the last several years, rising from 82.5 for the class of 2016 to 83.8 for the class of 2020. Education officials note that dropout rates have also decreased in recent years, and say this year’s dip in the statewide graduation rate underlines "the importance of ensuring Minnesota public schools have the funding and resources necessary to support all students."

“The drop in the overall graduation rate and persistent opportunity gaps show our students need more support,” said Denise Specht, Presidents of Education Minnesota, the state's largest teachers organization. “Minnesota has the money to invest in the resources students and educators need. It’s time for Senate Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature to quit sitting on the state’s $9.25 billion surplus and settle up with public schools that have been shortchanged for years."

Specht says more money is needed so districts can fund mental health supports, address staffing shortages and class size issues, and give education support professionals "the respect and compensation they deserve." 

The budget forwarded by Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan calls for investing a 2% increase on the general education formula, public funding that local district leaders can use as they see fit.  

For more on the 2021 graduation rates and how your school did, log on to the Minnesota Report Card web page.

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