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National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 (NLS:72)

1. Overview

NLS:72 collected data from:
  • Students
  • School administrators
  • School counselors
  • Postsecondary transcripts

In response to the need for policy-relevant, time-series data on nationally representative samples of elementary and secondary students, NCES instituted the National Longitudinal Studies (NLS) Program, a continuing long-term project. The general aim of this program is to study the educational, vocational, and personal development of students at various grade levels and the personal, familial, social, institutional, and cultural factors that may affect that development. The National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 (NLS:72) was the first in the series. The first four studies—NLS:72, the High School and Beyond Longitudinal Study (HS&B) (see HS&B chapter ), the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88) (see NELS chapter ), and the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002) (see ELS chapter )—cover the educational experience of youth from the 1970s into the 21st century.

NLS:72 collected comprehensive base‑year data from a nationally representative sample of high school seniors in spring 1972, prior to high school graduation. Additional information about students and schools was obtained from school administrators and counselors. Over the course of the project‑extending from the base‑year survey in 1972 to the fifth follow‑up survey in 1986‑data were collected on nearly 23,000 students. A number of supplemental data collection efforts were also undertaken, including a Postsecondary Education Transcript Study (PETS) in 1984‑85 and a Teaching Supplement in 1986.


To provide information on the transition of young adults from high school through postsecondary education and into the workplace.


NLS:72 collected data from students (high school seniors in 1972), school administrators, and school counselors. Data were primarily collected in a base‑year and five follow‑up surveys. The project also included periodic supplements completed by 1972 high school seniors and a collection of postsecondary transcripts from the colleges and universities attended by the students.


Base‑Year Survey. The base-year survey was conducted in spring 1972 and comprised the following:

Student Questionnaire. Students reported information about their personal and family background (age, sex, race, physical handicaps, socioeconomic status [SES] of family and community); education and work experiences (school characteristics and performance; work status, performance, and satisfaction); future plans (work, education, and/or military); and aspirations, attitudes, and opinions. Students also completed a Test Battery—six timed aptitude tests that measured verbal and nonverbal abilities. These tests covered vocabulary, picture number, reading, letter groups, mathematics, and mosaic comparisons. (See “Test Battery” in Section 3. Key Concepts.)

Student Record Information Form (SRIF). School administrators completed this form for each student sample member. The SRIF collected data on each student’s high school curriculum, credit hours in major courses, and grade point average (and, if applicable, the student’s position in ability groupings, remedial-instruction record, involvement in certain federally supported programs, and scores on standardized tests).

School Questionnaire. School administrators provided data on program and student enrollment information, such as grades covered, enrollment by grade, curricula offered, attendance records, racial/ethnic composition of school, dropout rates by sex, number of handicapped and disadvantaged students, and percentage of recent graduates in college.

Counselor Questionnaire. One or two counselors in each school provided data on their sex, race, and age; college courses in counseling and practice background; total years of counseling and years at present school; prior counseling experience with Black, Hispanic, and other race/ethnicity groups; sources of support for postsecondary education recommended to/used by students; job placement methods used; number of students assigned for counseling and number counseled per week; time spent in counseling per week; time spent with students about various problems, choices, and guidance; and time spent in various other activities (e.g., conferences with parents and teachers).


Follow‑up Surveys. In 1973, 1974, 1976, 1979, and 1986, NCES conducted follow-up surveys of students in the 1972 base-year sample and of students in an augmented sample selected for the first follow-up. These surveys collected information from the 1972 high school seniors on marital status; children; community characteristics; education, military service, and/or work plans; educa­tional attainment (schools attended, grades received, credits earned, financial assistance); work history; attitudes and opinions relating to self-esteem, goals, job satisfaction, and satisfaction with school experiences; and participation in community affairs or political activities. School Questionnaires and retrospective high school data were collected during the first follow-up for sample schools and students who had not participated in the base-year survey.

Concurrently with the second follow-up, an Activity State Questionnaire was administered to sample members who had not provided activity information in the base-year or first follow-up surveys. Data were collected on pursuits in which the sample member was active in October of 1972 and 1973, including education, work, military service, and being a housewife, among others. Background information about the sample member’s high school program and about parents’ education and occupation was also requested.

During the fourth follow-up survey, a subsample of respondents was retested on a subset of the base-year Test Battery. In addition, a Supplemental Questionnaire was administered to respondents who had not reported certain information in previous surveys. The information asked for retrospectively covered the sample member’s school and employment status from October 1972 through October 1976 and his or her license or diploma status as of October 1976. The questionnaires were tailored to the sample member’s pattern of missing responses and consisted of two to four of the 11 possible sections.

The fifth follow‑up survey offered the opportunity to gather information on the experiences and attitudes of sample members for whom an extensive history already existed. It differed from the previous follow-ups in that it was only sent to a subsample of the original respondents and targeted certain subgroups in the population. About 10 pages of new questions on marital history, divorce, child support, and economic relationships in families were included. The fifth follow‑up also included a sequence of questions aimed at understanding the kinds of individuals who apply for and enroll in graduate management programs, as well as several questions about attitudes toward the teaching profession.

A Teaching Supplement, which was administered concurrently with the fifth follow-up, was a separate questionnaire that was sent to fifth follow‑up respondents who indicated on the main survey form that they had teaching experience or training. The supplement focused on the qualifications, experiences, and attitudes of current and former elementary and secondary school teachers and on the qualifications of persons who had completed a degree in education or who had received certification, but had not actually taught. The supplement included items that asked about reasons for entering the teaching career, degrees and certification, actual teaching experience, allocation of time while working, pay scale, satisfaction with teaching, characteristics of the school in which the respondent taught, and professional activities. Former teachers were asked about their reasons for leaving the teaching profession and the career (if any) they pursued afterward. Current teachers were asked about their future career plans, including how long they expected to remain in teaching. The supplement included six critical items: type of certification, certification subject(s), first year of teaching, beginning salary in the district where the respondent was currently teaching, years of experience, and grade level taught.


Postsecondary Education Transcript Study (PETS). To obtain data on coursework and credits for analysis of occupational and career outcomes, NCES requested official transcripts from all academic and vocational schools attended by the 1972 seniors since leaving high school. This study, conducted during 1984‑85, collected transcripts from all postsecondary institutions reported by sample members in the first through fourth follow‑up surveys. The information gathered from the transcripts included terms of attendance, fields of study, specific courses taken, and grades and credits earned. As the study covered a 12‑year period, dates of attendance and term dates were recorded from each transcript received, allowing analysis over the whole period or any defined part.


The base-year survey was conducted in the spring of 1972, with five follow‑ups in 1973, 1974, 1976, 1979, and 1986. Supplemental data collections were administered during all but the third follow‑up. Postsecondary transcripts were collected in 1984‑85.

Data Availability

Information concerning how to access the restricted-use data for NLS:72 through the fifth follow-up is available at