It's graduation season, but approximately one-in-five Illinois high school seniors is not donning a cap and gown. According to the 2015 Building a Grad Nation report, while Illinois' high school graduation rate of 83 percent is slightly higher than the national average, the rate has been stagnant for several years.
Co-author of the report Robert Balfanz says another concern is the opportunity gap.
"That's part of why it's a challenge," says Balfanz. "In many neighborhoods in Illinois everybody graduates so it's not seen as a state issue. But in another set of neighborhoods a lot of kids don't graduate. So somehow the state has to get together and recognize that it's important for all their kids to graduate."
The report found in Illinois, about 90 percent of middle and high-income students graduate, compared to only 73 percent of low income youth. To increase the overall graduation rate, the report recommends states expand the use of early-warning systems that can indicate a child needs intervention and make state funding more equitable so low-income and affluent students have the same opportunities.
Balfanz says increasing the number of high school graduates is critical for both the students' future and the success of Illinois.
"If we keep having communities where 20, 30, 40 percent of the kids aren't graduating from high school it's going to be very hard for the community to continue to succeed as a community," he says. "Because if there's no work it's hard to be a successful adult."
According to the report, for the third year in a row, the country remains on pace to achieve the national goal of a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate by 2020.