Programs to Increase High School Completion

A Community Guide Systematic Health Equity Review


      High school completion (HSC) is an established predictor of long-term morbidity and mortality. U.S. rates of HSC are substantially lower among students from low-income families and most racial/ethnic minority populations than students from high-income families and the non-Hispanic white population. This systematic review assesses the effectiveness of programs to increase HSC and the potential of these programs to improve lifelong health among at-risk students.

      Evidence acquisition

      A search located a meta-analysis (search period 1985–2010/2011) on the effects of programs to increase HSC or General Educational Development (GED) diploma receipt; the meta-analysis was concordant with Community Guide definitions and methodologic standards. Programs were assessed separately for the general student population (152 studies) and students who were parents or pregnant (15 studies). A search for studies published between 2010 and August 2012 located ten more recent studies, which were assessed for consistency with the meta-analysis. Analyses were conducted in 2013.

      Evidence synthesis

      The review focused on the meta-analysis. Program effectiveness was measured as the increased rate of HSC (or GED receipt) by the intervention group compared with controls. All assessed program types were effective in increasing HSC in the general student population: vocational training, alternative schooling, social–emotional skills training, college-oriented programming, mentoring and counseling, supplemental academic services, school and class restructuring, multiservice packages, attendance monitoring and contingencies, community service, and case management. For students who had children or were pregnant, attendance monitoring and multiservice packages were effective. Ten studies published after the search period for the meta-analysis were consistent with its findings.


      There is strong evidence that a variety of HSC programs can improve high school or GED completion rates. Because many programs are targeted to high-risk students and communities, they are likely to advance health equity.
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