Almost one in five young Tulsans are entering adulthood without a high school diploma.




Graduation rates for the Tulsa region increased by 2% between 2014 and 2015—from 81% to 83%. That is in line with Oklahoma and the nation’s 2015 graduation rates at 83%. These numbers are encouraging, but gaps among subgroups still exist. Only 73% of low-income students in the Tulsa area graduated on-time compared with 90% of higher-income peers. There is a 9% difference in the graduation rates between students of color at 78% and their white peers at 87%.


It is necessary to look at both graduation rates and college and career readiness as important indicators of success beyond high school. The ACT is widely taken in Oklahoma to determine college readiness in English, math, reading, and science. In a pilot during Spring 2016, all Oklahoma juniors took the ACT during the school day at no cost to them. Only 17% of Tulsa area juniors met ACT’s college readiness benchmarks. The average score for Oklahoma juniors was 20.4. In comparison, the average score for Tulsa area juniors was 19. Local four-year research universities require a 24 for entry. This presents a barrier for students who do not have the minimum score to attend these types of institutions.


Labor market prospects are bleak for individuals with less than a high school diploma. The unemployment rate for adults who did not graduate was 7.9% in December 2016 compared to 5.1% for high school graduates and 3.8% for adults with some college or an associate’s degree. At the current rate, more than 14,000 Tulsa area students will drop out over the course of a decade. The average high school dropout will earn $10,400 less than a high school graduate


The increases in the number of students graduating from high school in the Tulsa region should be celebrated, but there is still much work to be done. Local graduation rates across individual schools show great variation, from 46% to 100%. Levers related to high school completion include attendance, behavior, and course completion. Early Warning Indicator Systems such as those created by Johns Hopkins University’s Diplomas Now initiative and used in some local schools provide the ability to track these levers in real time and implement timely interventions that can help shrink the gap in graduation rates and college and career readiness.




The high school graduation rates reported here are for the class of 2014 and follow postsecondary enrollment and persistence through the fall of 2016. The rates are made possible through a partnership with the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC)—a national non-profit that tracks postsecondary enrollment and completion across the United States. More than 3,600 colleges and universities, enrolling 98% of all postsecondary students, participate in NSC. Numbers include Tulsa area students who leave the region or the state to attend postsecondary institutions. Some technical schools do not participate in NSC.


The findings are encouraging. They show 67% of high school graduates from ImpactTulsa partner districts enrolled at some point during the two years after graduation. This “ever-enrolled” rate is up 4% from the class of 2013. Students of color show major gains—65% ever-enrolled for the 2014 cohort compared to 56% for 2013 graduates. Low-income students show a gain as well—57% for 2014 graduates compared to 55% for 2013 peers.


Persistent enrollment at the two-year mark shows small improvement. Enrollment in associate’s degree-granting institutions is up 2%—from 14% in 2013 to 16% for 2014. Students of color and low-income students both experienced 2% gains. The results are mixed for bachelor’s degree-granting institutions. Overall persistence rates at the two-year point are unchanged at 28%, but enrollment rates are up for students of color.


U.S. high school graduation rates are at an all-time high. Tulsa is on par with the rest of the nation. While this is an encouraging trend, when you factor in the demand of 65% of jobs requiring a postsecondary education, improving high school graduation rates is only one step. Currently, only 53% of area graduates complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is the passport to a postsecondary education. There is a 30% increase in postsecondary enrollment with low and middle-income students if the FAFSA is completed. We have to work to ensure a growing number of high school graduates move to and through postsecondary institutions.


Increasing a student’s ability to pay for postsecondary education is an important lever in advancing credentials in Tulsa County. Tulsa is uniquely positioned through scholarships like Tulsa Community College’s Tulsa Achieves and Tulsa Technology Center’s Accelerating Independence. These scholarships allow any Tulsa area student to obtain a two-year degree or certificate at no cost.


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a student’s passport to these and other postsecondary opportunities. When FAFSA forms are completed, low- and middle-income students are 30% more likely to enroll in postsecondary programs. The most recent data show 52% of 2015 Tulsa area high school graduates completed FAFSA forms, which is similar to national rates. Encouraging more students and families to complete the FAFSA could result in more opportunities for our high school graduates.


It is important to reduce barriers to postsecondary enrollment and persistence. “Summer melt” is a recognized phenomenon in which postsecondary-bound students are accepted to an institution but over the course of the summer do not follow through to enroll in the fall. Studies show up to 40% of low-income students who are accepted never truly matriculate for a number of personal and financial reasons. For students who go on to enroll, even fewer actually persist each semester and school year. A full national sample of young college-goers suggests about 60% of “ever enrollees” will earn a degree within six years. Therefore, the Tulsa region needs more students accessing the postsecondary pipeline to produce an increasing number of postsecondary graduates.


Completing the FAFSA form is the passport to help a graduate attain a postsecondary credential.



ImpactTulsa feels strongly that given the postsecondary access programs and debt free options available in Tulsa County and the state as a whole, ensuring more students are completing FAFSA forms would have a substantial impact on the number of students entering and subsequently completing a postsecondary program.


See more about FAFSA completion here.