The graduation rate was about the same as a year ago – 69.9 percent compared with 69.5 percent in 2007 – and state Superintendent of Education June Atkinson said communities must do more to emphasize high school graduation to students.
"Students in North Carolina need to hear one message from kindergarten all the way through school, and that message is graduate," Atkinson said in a statement. "This needs to be the minimum expectation for every student."
State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee challenged schools and communities to provide the encouragement, support and expectations students need to stay in school.
"The world is going to be a very tough place for young people who enter the work force without a high school diploma," Lee said in a statement. "In reality, a high school diploma is a minimum requirement. Students are going to need additional schooling and training in order to support themselves and their families."
Asian students posted the highest graduation rate statewide, at more than 80 percent, followed by white students at 75 percent. Sixty-two percent of black students graduated within four years, while Hispanic and Native American students both had graduation rates of about 56 percent.
Seventy-four percent of girls graduated within four years statewide, compared with 66 percent of boys.
Lee and Atkinson said they were concerned by the so-called "achievement gap" between white students and most minority students.
"We have to have extended strategies to meet the needs of students so they can graduate," Atkinson said.
Wake Forest-Rolesville High School Principal Andre Smith said a program that includes Saturday classes helps keep graduation numbers up at his school. The school's latest rate is 83 percent.
"We're very proud, but we have a lot of work to do. The issue of graduation rate is very complex," Smith said. "I believe that you can bridge that (achievement) gap, but you're going to need a lot of support."
Although the graduation rates of some groups have increased in recent years, the rate for economically disadvantaged students has fallen to 59 percent. Atkinson said she believes that is a reflection of the nation's struggling economy, which has affected a growing number of North Carolina families.
"When you're dealing with individuals coming from impoverished homes, often times they take a look and see what the priorities are," Smith said. "(They may choose) Wake Tech (or) employment."
In Wake County, about 79 percent of students graduated in 2008. The graduation rate in Durham County was 63 percent, and it was 75 percent in Orange and Johnston counties. Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools had an 88 percent graduation rate, and Cumberland County had a 71 percent rate.
The 30 percent of North Carolina students who didn't graduate in the most recent four-year period either dropped out or are still trying to finish their required classes, officials said.