CHICAGO (Reuters) - Graduation rates at high schools have improved to their highest level in nearly 40 years, driven by a surge in the percentage of Hispanic students earning diplomas, a government study released on Tuesday showed.
Some 78.2 percent of U.S. high schoolers completed their studies and earned a diploma within four years in the 2009-2010 school year, according to U.S. Department of Education data.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said it was the best showing in on-time graduation rates since 1974, and he was especially encouraged by the improvement among Hispanic students, whose graduation rates surged 10 percent to 71.4 percent between 2006 and 2010, the last year for which data was available.
While hailing the rebound, Duncan said dropout rates remained "unsustainably high for a knowledge-based economy."
Across the United States, four-year graduation rates were highest for students of Asian and Pacific-Islander heritage at 93.5 percent, followed by white students at 83 percent, and Hispanic students at 71.4 percent, according to the study.
American Indian and Alaskan Native students graduated at a rate of 69.1 percent, followed by black students at 66.1 percent, it showed.
Vermont had the highest four-year graduation rate in the country in 2010 with 91.4 percent of high school students in the state earning a diploma in four years.
Nevada had the lowest four-year graduation rate, with 57.8 percent of high school students earning a diploma on time, the department said.
(Reporting by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and David Gregorio)