Skip Navigation
Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972–2008

NCES 2011-012
December 2010

Current Population Survey

The Current Population Survey (CPS) provides nationally representative data for the civilian, noninstitutionalized population of the United States. The survey is conducted in a sample of 50,000–60,000 households each month. Households are interviewed for four successive monthly interviews, are not interviewed for the next 8 months, and then are reinterviewed for the following 4 months. Typically, the first and the fifth interviews are conducted in person, with the remaining conducted via computer-assisted telephone interviewing. The sample frame is a complete list of dwelling-unit addresses at the time of the decennial Census updated by demolitions and new construction listings. The population surveyed excludes members of the armed forces, inmates of correctional institutions, and patients in long-term medical or custodial facilities; it is referred to as the civilian, noninstitutionalized population. The household-level nonresponse rate was 8.3 percent in the 2007 October basic CPS and the person-level nonresponse rate for the school enrollment supplement was an additional 5.3 percent. These rates cannot be combined to derive an overall person-level response rate. For more information, please see Current Population Survey, October 2008: School Enrollment and Internet Use Supplement File (Technical Documentation CPS-08) (U.S. Department of Commerce 2009). An adult member of each household serves as the informant for that household, supplying basic monthly data for each member of the household. In addition, in October of each year, supplementary questions regarding school enrollment are asked about eligible household members ages 3 and older. Data are collected about individuals who attend or attended public schools and private schools, who were homeschooled, or who never attended school in the United States.

CPS data on educational attainment and enrollment status in the current year and prior year are used to identify dropouts and completers, and additional items in the CPS data are used to describe some of their basic characteristics. The CPS is the only source of national time series data on dropout and completion rates. However, because the CPS collects no information on school characteristics and experiences, its usefulness in addressing dropout and completion issues is primarily for providing insights on who drops out and who completes. Sample sizes in the CPS collections do not support stable state-level estimates.

There are important differences in data collection procedures between the CPS and the CCD. First, the CCD collection includes only data for public schools, whereas the CPS counts include students who were enrolled in either public or private schools and some individuals who were never enrolled in school in the United States. Second, the CCD collects data about students from a given state’s public school system. CPS data are based on where individuals currently reside, so the state of residence may differ from the state or country of earlier school attendance. Third, the CCD collection includes dropouts in grades 7–12, versus grades 10–12 in the CPS (although the CCD event rates are reported for grades 9–12 in this report). Fourth, the CCD collection is based on administrative records rather than individual self-reports based on household surveys as in the CPS. Finally, data in the CCD are collected from the full universe of public schools, whereas data in the CPS are collected from a sample of households, not the full universe of households. As a result, CPS data have sampling errors associated with estimates whereas CCD data do not. For more information on CPS sampling errors and how to interpret them, see the section “Statistical Procedures for Analyzing CPS-Based Estimates” later in appendix A.