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Statistical Analysis Report:

Subsequent Educational Attainment of High School Dropouts

June 1998

(NCES 98-085) Ordering information


This study examines the educational and employment attainment of 1988 eighth graders who dropped out of high school, based on data from the 1988 National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS:88/94). The following are key findings about their subsequent education and employment experiences:

About half of dropouts completed high school.

  • By 1994, among 1988 eighth graders who dropped out, 16 percent had completed a high school diploma, 29 percent had completed a General Educational Development (GED) or equivalency certificate, and 24 percent were working on a diploma or GED. The remaining one-third of dropouts (32 percent) had no credential and were not pursuing any further education (figure 1).
Completion status for dropouts was associated with a number of student and academic characteristics, such as socioeconomic status, test scores, and grades earned before dropping out.

High school completion among dropouts was associated with socioeconomic status.

  • Socioeconomic status (SES) was strongly associated with the proportion of dropouts who completed high school. Dropouts from families in higher SES quartiles were more likely to complete high school than others. For example, almost three-quarters (74 per-cent) of dropouts whose families were in the highest SES quartile finished high school, compared with 33 percent of dropouts whose families were in the lowest SES quartile (table 1).
Dropouts who demonstrated academic ability, but not necessarily academic performance, were most likely to complete high school.
  • Among dropouts, higher 1988 test scores were associated with the likelihood of having completed high school by 1994. For example, three out of four dropouts (76 percent) who scored in the highest test quartile completed high school, compared with 30 percent of those who scored in the lowest test quartile (table 1).
  • Although both test scores and grades were associated with dropouts who completed a diploma, test scores, but not grades, were associated with those who completed a GED. For example, 51 percent of dropouts scoring in the highest test quartile completed a GED, compared with 18 percent of those scoring in the lowest test quartile. However, similar proportions of those who passed the GED had grade averages in the A to B, C, or the D or F range: about 24 percent of dropouts had A or B averages, 27 percent had C averages, and 27 percent had D or F averages (table 1).
By 1994, two years after most of the cohort completed high school, high school completion among dropouts was associated with some educational, but few employment, characteristics./1

In 1994, most dropouts were either working, looking for work, or at home.

  • About the same proportion of dropouts as 1988 eighth graders who had never dropped out reported working full time or part time in 1994 (60 and 63 percent, respectively; table 9a). Working, however, was the only activity in which both these groups partook in 1994. Those who never dropped out were much more likely to be taking academic courses. More than half (57 percent) of those who had never dropped out were enrolled in 2- or 4-year postsecondary institutions in 1994, compared with 8 percent of dropouts who were similarly enrolled. Dropouts, by comparison, were much more likely than those who had never dropped out to report keeping house or being full-time homemakers (18 compared with 5 percent). In addition, dropouts were also more likely to be looking for work (16 percent) than their counterparts who had not dropped out (6 percent; table 9a).
One quarter of dropouts enrolled in postsecondary education.
  • About one in four dropouts (26 percent) had enrolled in a postsecondary institution by 1994. About 11 percent of dropouts had enrolled in a 2- or 4-year degree program; 11 percent had enrolled in a certificate program; and the remaining 4 percent had enrolled in other postsecondary programs (figure 7a).
  • Among dropouts, those who completed high school by either a diploma or GED were much more likely than those who had not completed high school to obtain postsecondary education (42 percent of completers versus 14 percent of noncompleters reported having some postsecondary education; table 15).


[1] This may be a result of the small sample size of dropouts. When available, differences among dropouts by completion status were noted, if not available, differences were noted between dropouts on the aggregate compared with those who had never dropped out.

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National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education