Closing the Gap: How High School Class Alternatives Improve Graduation Rates

Posted by Lauren Ambrosio on May 8, 2024

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, providing students with adaptable learning options is key to fostering success. Alternative high school classes stand out as a resource, offering pathways that align more closely with students' interests, learning styles, and life goals. Recent studies show the positive impact of these alternative options on graduation rates, so let’s take a closer look at the data and how we can use it to bridge the ever-widening education inequality gap.


High school-aged boy wearing glasses studying in his bedroom with a laptop, taking notes in a spiral notebook.

A closer look at the impact of alternative school options

Research reveals a striking correlation between alternative high school programs and higher graduation rates. For instance, a study of vocational and technical high schools in Massachusetts showed a remarkable 21% increase in graduation rates compared to traditional high schools. This trend isn't isolated. Across various states, career-focused tracks have consistently demonstrated a higher likelihood of on-time graduation, especially for juniors and seniors engaged in career and technical education courses.*


Why alternative options work for some students

  • Students often find alternative programs more relevant to their future careers and interests, boosting engagement and motivation.
  • Tailored curricula cater to individual learning preferences, making education a more personal and effective experience.
  • Many alternative schools offer additional support services, including counseling and mentorship, fostering a nurturing learning environment.
  • Alternative programs frequently provide flexible scheduling and pacing, promoting a balance between education and other life responsibilities.


Read more: 5 Strategies to Help Learners Earn a High School Diploma


Benefits beyond the classroom

The advantages of alternative high school options extend beyond graduation rates. These programs can equip students with practical skills, preparing them for immediate entry into the workforce or further education. Moreover, alternative schools contribute to a more inclusive and equitable educational landscape by catering to all learning needs.


Alex Thome, Vice President at Penn Foster High School, says, “Having a high school diploma can help people earn more, but what it really does is help remove major obstacles that might keep individuals from going to college, being more respected by their employers, or getting more career training. I think of a high school diploma as a driver of hope and economic mobility–that's what our graduates and learners tell us.”


Read more: How Alternative Counseling & Online High School Help At-Risk Teens (Case Study)


Embracing alternative education paths

In light of these findings, educators, policymakers, and communities are encouraged to support and expand alternative high school options. By doing so, we increase graduation rates and affirm the value of multiple educational pathways, acknowledging that success comes in many forms and should be accessible to all students.


Alternative high school classes represent a vital component of our educational system, offering paths to success that resonate with a broader spectrum of students. By recognizing and nurturing these unique routes, we pave the way for a future where every student has the opportunity to thrive and achieve their full potential.


Read more: 3 Ways to Improve Inclusivity in Online Education


Together we can make alternatives more accessible to learners

Dr. Andy Shean, Chief Learning Officer for Penn Foster, shares that with students taking alternative learning paths, it’s important to “be really flexible to serve our learners exactly where they are, with what they need.”


In recognizing students' varying needs, it's evident that not everyone thrives within the confines of a traditional high school environment. By embracing alternative educational pathways, your institution can improve graduation rates and provide vital support for students who may otherwise slip through the cracks. Reach out today to learn how Penn Foster can provide solutions such as coursework, credit recovery, and high school completion options, all aimed at positively impacting your students' educational journey.



* Regional Educational Laboratory Program (REL). (2018, January 1). What does the research say about the effectiveness of career and Technical Education (CTE) programs on student outcomes (e.g., graduation rates, employment rates, and completion rates)?. Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Home Page, a part of the U.S. Department of Education.