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The National Education Longitudinal Studies (NELS) program of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) was established to study the educational, vocational, and personal development of young people beginning with their elementary or high school years, and following them over time as they begin to take on adult roles and responsibilities. Thus far, the NELS program consists of five major studies: the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 (NLS-72), High School and Beyond (HS&B), the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988(NELS:88), the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002), and the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09).

NLS-72 followed the 1972 cohort of high school seniors through 1986, or fourteen years after most of this cohort completed high school. The HS&B survey included two cohorts: the 1980 senior class, and the 1980 sophomore class. Both cohorts were surveyed every two years through 1986, and the 1980 sophomore class was also surveyed again in 1992. NELS:88 started with the cohort of students who were in the eighth grade in 1988, and these students have been surveyed through 2000. ELS:2002 began with a cohort of high school sophomores in 2002. This cohort will be followed through 2012. HSLS:09 began with a cohort of ninth graders in 2009. The first follow-up is planned for 2012 when most of the students will be high school juniors.