Statewide, 23,550 students dropped out last year, or about 5.24 percent of students enrolled in public high schools. That was up from 22,180 students, or 5.04 percent of enrollment, in 2005-06.
"North Carolinians need to make sure these young people realize how tough it can be for them once they bypass their high school diploma," State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee said in a statement. "High school graduation today is a bare minimum for economic survival, and we need to support all students so that they graduate from high school."
Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said the rising dropout rate shows a number of strategies must be explored to solve the dropout problem. Such efforts include more literacy coaches in North Carolina middle schools to prepare students for high school, the Learn and Earn program to offer students a chance to earn college credit for free in high school and grants for innovative dropout prevention programs.
The number of dropouts jumped 14.6 percent in Wake County last year, to 1,647, but the district's dropout rate remained well below the state average, at 4.21 percent. Likewise, Johnston County saw a 12.4 percent increase in dropouts, to 454, pushing its dropout rate above the state average, at 5.39 percent.
The number of dropouts in Durham County fell by 2.3 percent, to 508, and its dropout rate dipped below the state average, at 4.9 percent. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County school districts also reported fewer dropouts last year.
Statewide, almost one-third of the dropouts left school in the ninth grade, and 78 percent of the students who dropped out were between ages 16 and 18.
Dropout rates for black students (6.16 percent) and white students (4.52 percent) rose in the past year, while rates for Hispanic students (7.66 percent) and American Indian students (7.71 percent), declined.
About three of every five dropouts are boys.