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Alternative High School Graduation Pathways

February 18, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Brittany Whitley and Dr. Alan Moss

Colleges, employers, and communities expect that students who earn high school diplomas will be prepared for success after graduation, whether in higher education, the workforce, or civic life. Allowing students to advance through high school based on subject mastery rather than credit hours is an emerging approach that is meant to improve high school completion and ensure college and career readiness in the United States. Senate Bill 660 and House Bill 1956 would establish the “Show Me Success Diploma” as an alternative high school graduation pathway available after the tenth grade. Diploma recipients who have demonstrated mastery of the established standards can stay enrolled in high school or move on to a job or college. For students who enroll in a postsecondary institution before the end of their twelfth year, 90% of the state, local, and federal funds that would have been spent on their high school education will be deposited into a Missouri Education Savings Account in their name. 


  • High school graduation standards are typically determined by credit hours, or “seat time.” However, existing high school diploma standards may not be indicative of a student’s college & career readiness.
  • Several states and school districts have started to implement competency-based education innovations over the past decade, including alternative high school graduation standards. Arizona’s Grand Canyon Diploma Program, which most closely mirrors the Show Me Success Diploma, has graduated almost two hundred students over seven years.


  • Because most accelerated diploma programs are relatively new and vary across states and school districts, there is limited research about how these programs affect high school graduation rates, college enrollment, and completion.
  • It is difficult to predict the number of students that would participate in and complete the proposed program in Missouri and therefore the costs of program implementation.
  • Although students who enroll in college early are likely to attend local community colleges or trade schools, there is not enough information to determine the social-emotional impacts of students entering college at a younger age than their peers.


This Note has been updated. You can access the previous version (published January 2021) here.

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