Data from a series of longitudinal studies from the last few decades give insights as to how the goals and future plans of high school students may eventually materialize. Greater percentages of 1972 seniors did not expect to complete high school than did their peers in 2004. In 1972, some 19 percent of seniors did not expect to complete high school, compared with 5 percent of seniors in 2004. In addition, many of the educational expectation gaps across demographic groups observed in 1972 had narrowed or changed direction by 2004. For example, among 1972 seniors, more females than males did not expect to complete high school (22 vs. 16 percent), whereas in 2004, more males than females had this expectation (8 vs. 3 percent). Also, looking at changes by socioeconomic status (SES), 34 percent of seniors in the lowest SES quartile did not expect to complete high school in 1972, compared with 11 percent in 2004.
In terms of attaining higher levels of education, the percentage of high school seniors expecting to earn a graduate or professional degree was higher in 2004 than in 1972 (38 vs. 13 percent). Such shifts were evident across all demographic groups shown, although they varied across groups. For example, while the percentage of males who expected to obtain a graduate or professional degree was about 15 percentage points higher in 2004 than in 1972 (32 vs. 16 percent), the corresponding difference for females between these two time points was about 35 percentage points (45 vs. 9 percent). In addition, the percentages of seniors who expected to complete this level of education were higher in 2004 than in 1972 for Whites (39 vs. 22 percent), Blacks (39 vs. 14 percent), and Hispanics (33 vs. 9 percent).