Better Late Than Never: Why We Support Older Students to Become Late Graduates


One of the best things about Gateways High School is that we graduate students all year long! This is because we serve students who have had significant interruptions to their education. Our students have different timelines for completing their high school diploma. No matter how long it takes or when it happens, we love to celebrate our students’ success!


We serve a very diverse population of talented, perceptive, unconventional and promising older high school students who are balancing great potential along with life and/or learning challenges. Our students come to us late in their secondary education and at different times throughout the school year with gaps in skills and knowledge.


Our students are what we call “highly impacted youth”. They may have had significant interruptions to their education, may live on their own, may be in foster care/DHS, may be homeless, may be pregnant or parenting, may work for a living, struggle with addiction and mental health issues or may be on probation through the Juvenile Justice System. These contextual factors impact student growth in different and profound ways.


dsc_0012 All of our incoming students are behind in credits and almost none have passed previous state assessments required for graduation. In order to support these students, we provide a safe and supportive learning environment with an extended amount of time for them to gain the necessary confidence and skills to succeed.


By providing the “Gift of Time”, we ensure that these students have an opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma. We know that a high school diploma is a key to future success in post-secondary education, career and life. We also know that our district supports our efforts because we are meeting the needs of students who would likely drop out of school and not complete their high school education. Our school is a dropout prevention strategy for many students who would otherwise be running out of time to earn a diploma. Our experience at GHS, which is confirmed by nationwide research, is that the late graduation option is especially helpful for students who are in poverty or who are from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds.


The research on outcomes for late graduates is clear and very positive. A research report from the Center for Public Education (2009) found that “the extra work that late graduates and their high schools put into earning a diploma pays off–not only in late graduates’ academic outcomes, but in jobs, involvement in civic life, and commitment to healthy lifestyles.”


Specifically, the report found that:


  • There is little difference in future outcomes between on-time graduates and late graduates.
  • Late graduates are much more likely to go on to obtain either a bachelors’ or associates’ degree than dropouts.
  • Late graduates are more likely to be employed, and more likely to have full-time employment than dropouts. Late graduates are also significantly better off in terms of job benefits.
  • Late graduates are significantly more likely to have voted in a recent election.
  • Late graduates are more likely to make better health choices—they are more likely to be non-smokers than dropouts and they exercise more.



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