How Much Does a High School Diploma Cost?

Correction: The 2010 data and rankings have been updated to reflect a correction. Due to the mislabeling of several school districts, the data for Regional School Districts 4, 6, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 has been altered. These changes altered the cost per graduate rankings of schools slightly, but had no effect on the highest and lowest cost schools.  The average cost per graduate was also changed to the correct number, $134,354. Also, an incorrect data set representing one year of cost data has been removed and replaced with the correct data causing some, but not all, rankings to change. A previous correction updated Region 6’s costs and rank.

Lifetime Cost of a Connecticut High School Diploma: $134,000

How much does a high school diploma cost?

When Hartford students graduated from high school in June each diploma had a $200,000 price tag on it, according to data compiled from the state Department of Education.

Hartford spends the most per high school graduate. Second is New Britain and Greenwich is third most expensive.

The most efficient towns – Monroe, Tolland and Watertown – can get almost two grads for the price of one compared to the most expensive districts.

The average Connecticut high school graduate costs about $134,000 from kindergarten through senior year. For high school graduates in the city of Hartford, the cost is more than $200,000 per graduate.

The five most expensive and least expensive diplomas are:

Rank School Cost per Graduate

Watch a video version of the story from WFSB here.

The entire dataset is available here: Rankings | Data

Methodology: To calculate the cost per graduate, the Yankee Institute took data from the Connecticut Department of Education for average annual expenditures per student going back 13 years, representing K-12. After adding up that data, Yankee then divided it by graduation rates to come up with the lifetime cost per graduate. The most current data available is for the 2007-2008 school year, and data is not adjusted for inflation, so the real cost of 2010 graduates is higher than we have calculated. Communities with high annual costs, more drop outs, and lower graduation rates end up with the more expensive graduates. Some regional school districts, districts with less than 13 years of data, charter schools, and other non-traditional schools were left out of the calculations to keep the data consistent for the greatest number of schools.

The Department of Education data for cost per student is found here:
Graduation rate data can be accessed here:

Peter C. says:

As interesting as this chart is, it ignores a very important parameter: educational quality. An excellent education at a low cost is a great value. An excellent education at a high price may be worth the investment, but represents less value per dollar spent. And sacrificing educational quality to achieve low costs is no bargain, as it imposes a lifetime burden on the students and society.

What is needed is a value calculation for educational expenditures, and not just a cost calculation. Many of the worst performing school districts already spend much more per pupil than average. Conversely, some districts spend relatively little per student, and some get excellent results while others get poor results.

How can we assess the value of educational expenditures, not just the cost? One way to assess the value recieved for dollars spent would be to divide dollars spent per student–State NCEP (Net Current Expenditure per Pupil) data–by a standardized measure of district performance, say, the average scores in each district on the CT Mastery Tests for 8th grade. The resulting measure of “educational efficiency” reveals student performance per dollar expended. (There are three Mastery Tests—Math, Reading and Writing. Excellent performance by a school district requires success on all three tests, so adding the three scores and dividing by three gives the average result. The use of the average simplifies the calculation, but is also a meaningful indicator of overall performance.)

Since a district can achieve low costs in one of two ways—delivering a good education efficiently or sacrificing quality for cost control—some measure of educational efficiency is a better way to look at school costs than raw costs per student. After all, the objective is not to avoid educating the next generation–educating the next generation is a civic responsibility–but to do so as efficiently as possible. The reverse is also true: spending great sums of money per pupil and getting poor results only magnifies the lack of value delivered for each dollar spent in some districts. Ranking of school districts by educational value per dollar spent may offer insights for the State and other school districts into where lagging districts might look for models of efficient education.

Bill says:

$171,842.65 is the number I come up with for East Hartford, which is the school budget divided by the number of graduates. It does not include the cost of the students to society who were not graduated at the 88.3 percent rate for our town. Nor does it include the cost of bonding or state oversite of over one dozen schools, nor does it include lost tax revenues from tax-exempt school property, retirement and medical insurance costs for all school workers in perpetuity. Or the loss of potential profit the town might make from selling schools and leasing them back to non-profit private schools.
If East Hartford abolished its public school system and instead gave every town 16-year-old who spent at least 8 of those years as a town resident a choice between either a check for $300,000, or an educational annuity for a similar amount, an account that each individual could draw on only for educational purposes should he or she so choose like the DROP plan East Hartford now offers retirees – the cost would be far less than the $83 million the town spends annually. And I would venture that private schools would rush to fill the gap. And a better-educated workforce would result.

Brad F says:

That is an awful lot of money the state pays for an investment with relatively little return. Even if the students go to UConn after graduation, they are still not likely to stay in Connecticut to work due to the lack of jobs and a government that is creating an economic environment unfriendly to business. Perhaps CT should look into adopting a school voucher program. This approach worked really well for the Washington D.C. school system. Graduation rates were up, costs were down, and the quality of education was improved. If only the teacher’s union didn’t force the congress to repeal the voucher program because it wasn’t to their benefit. At the end of the day, education policy should be about whats best for the students and not whats best for the teacher’s union self-interested legislatures.