Skip Navigation
Digest of Education Statistics: 2008
Digest of Education Statistics: 2008

NCES 2009-020
March 2009

Chapter 5: Outcomes of Education

This chapter contains tables comparing educational attainment and workforce characteristics. The data show labor force participation and income levels of high school dropouts and high school and college graduates. Population characteristics are provided for many of the measures to help provide comparisons among various demographic groups. Tables 381 to 383 contain data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on labor force participation, employment, unemployment, and type of occupation by highest level of educational attainment, sex, age, and race/ethnicity. Tables 384 and 385 provide income comparisons by education level and sex. Table 386 provides literacy scores for adults by education level, employment status, and demographic characteristics. Percentages of high school seniors with various characteristics who work different numbers of hours per week are shown in table 387.

Tables 388 and 389, compiled from U.S. Census Bureau data on high school completers and dropouts, show the labor force participation and college enrollment of high school students within the year after they leave school. The tabulations also provide comparative labor force participation and unemployment rates for high school completers and dropouts. Additional information on college enrollment rates by race/ethnicity and sex has been included to help form a more complete picture of high school outcomes. Table 390 provides data on college enrollment and employment among special education students who have left secondary school. Tables 391 to 394 were prepared from the Recent College Graduates and Baccalaureate and Beyond surveys by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). These tables provide data on employment outcomes and salaries for college graduates 1 year after graduation. Tables 395 to 397 deal with drug use and life values of high school seniors and young adults.

Statistics related to outcomes of education appear in other sections of the Digest. For example, statistics on educational attainment of the entire population are in chapter 1. More detailed data on the numbers of high school and college graduates are contained in chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 3 contains trend data on the percentage of high school completers going to college. Additional data on the income of people by educational attainment may be obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau in the Current Population Reports, Series P-60. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has a series of publications dealing with the educational characteristics of the labor force. Further information on survey methodologies is in Appendix A: Guide to Sources and in the publications cited in the table source notes.

Labor Force

Adults with higher levels of education generally had higher labor force participation rates than adults with less education (table 381 and figure 21). (People participating in the labor force are those employed or actively seeking employment.) Among people 25 to 64 years old, 86 percent of those with a bachelor's or higher degree participated in the labor force in 2007, compared with 76 percent of those who had completed only high school. In comparison, 64 percent of those ages 25 to 64 who had not completed high school were in the labor force. The 2007 labor force participation rate for those ages 25 to 64 who had completed only high school was higher for Whites (77 percent) and Hispanics (79 percent) than for Asians (74 percent) and Blacks (72 percent) (table 381). Among people ages 25 to 64 with a bachelor's or higher degree, the labor force participation rates for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics (86 to 88 percent) were higher than the rate for Asians (82 percent).

Unemployment rates were generally higher for people with lower levels of educational attainment than for those with higher levels of educational attainment (table 382). (The unemployment rate is the percentage of people in the labor force who are not employed, but made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the prior 4 weeks.) The 2007 unemployment rate for adults (25 years old and over) who had not completed high school was 7.1 percent, compared with 4.4 percent for those who had completed high school and 2.0 percent for those with a bachelor's or higher degree (figure 22). Younger people tended to have higher unemployment rates than did people 25 years old and over (table 382).

The relative difficulties dropouts have in entering the job market are highlighted by comparing their labor force participation rates to those of other youth. Of the 2006–07 high school completers who were not in college in October 2007, 77 percent were in the labor force (employed or looking for work), and 20 percent of those in the labor force were looking for work (table 388). In comparison, 2006–07 high school dropouts participated in the labor force at a lower rate (56 percent) in October 2007 (table 389).

One year after graduating from college in 1999–2000, 87 percent of individuals receiving bachelor's degrees were employed (77 percent full time and 11 percent part time), 6 percent were unemployed, and 6 percent were not in the labor force (table 392).


Among full-time year-round workers 25 years old and over, the median annual income of males, when adjusted for inflation, increased between 1995 and 1999, but decreased between 1999 and 2007, resulting in a 2007 income that was similar to the 1995 income (table 384). The median annual income for females working full-time year-round rose between 1995 and 2001, and had no consistent trend between 2001 and 2007, for a net increase of 7 percent for the entire period. Females' incomes remained lower than males' incomes overall, as well as by education level. For example, the median 2007 income for full-time year-round workers with a bachelor's degree was $62,090 for males and $45,770 for females. Among people 25 years old and over who had earnings in 2007, median annual earnings were lower for females than for males ($29,540 vs. $41,540) (table 385 and figure 24).