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National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88)


A nationally representative sample of eighth-graders were first surveyed in the spring of 1988. A sample of these respondents were then resurveyed through four follow-ups in 1990, 1992, 1994, and 2000. On the questionnaire, students reported on a range of topics including: school, work, and home experiences; educational resources and support; the role in education of their parents and peers; neighborhood characteristics; educational and occupational aspirations; and other student perceptions. Additional topics included self-reports on smoking, alcohol and drug use and extracurricular activities. For the three in-school waves of data collection (when most were eighth-graders, sophomores, or seniors), achievement tests in reading, social studies, mathematics and science were administered in addition to the student questionnaire.

To further enrich the data, students' teachers, parents, and school administrators were also surveyed. Coursework and grades from students' high school and postsecondary transcripts are also available in the restricted use dataset - although some composite variables have been made available in the public use file.

The NELS:88 data can be used for policy-relevant research about educational processes and outcomes, for example: student learning; early and late predictors of dropping out; and school effects on students' access to programs and equal opportunity to learn.


More about the data collection waves:

The base year of the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88) represents the first stage of this major longitudinal effort designed to provide trend data about critical transitions experienced by students as they leave middle or junior high school, and progress through high school and into postsecondary institutions or the work force.

The first follow-up in 1990 constitutes the first opportunity for longitudinal measurements from the 1988 baseline. It also provides a comparison point to high school sophomores-ten years before, as studied in HS&B. The dataset captures the population of early dropouts (those who leave school prior to the end of tenth grade), while monitoring the transition of the student population into secondary schooling.

The second follow-up took place early in 1992, when most sample members were in the second term of their senior year. The second follow-up provides a culminating measurement of learning in the course of secondary school, and also collects information that will facilitate investigation of the transition into the labor force and postsecondary education after high school. Because the NELS:88 sample was freshened to represent the high school class of 1992, trend comparisons can be made to the high school classes of 1972 and 1980 that were studied in NLS-72 and HS&B. The NELS:88 second follow-up returned to students who were identified as dropouts in 1990, and identified and surveyed additional students who had left school since the prior wave.

The third follow-up took place in 1994, when most sample members had completed high school. The primary goals of the 1994 round were: 1) to provide data for trend comparisons with NLS-72 and HS&B; 2) to address issues of employment and postsecondary access and choice; and 3) to ascertain how many dropouts have returned to school and by what route.

Data from the fourth follow-up interview in 2000 will permit researchers to examine what this cohort had accomplished 12 years after the eighth-grade baseline survey. The 2000 data were collected at a key stage of life transitions for the eighth-grade class of 1988-most had been out of high school for nearly 8 years. Many had already completed postsecondary education, started or even changed careers, and started to form families. The public use fourth follow-up data is now available.


Public Use Data Files

Researchers may obtain a free copy of the NELS:88 public use data files and electronic codebook (ECB) via the EDAT (

Restricted Data License

For access to restricted NELS:88 data, researchers will need to obtain (or amend) an NCES restricted data license due to NCES's confidentiality legislation.


highlight icon of a check markHighlights

November 2015:

NCES-Barron’s Admissions Competitiveness Index Data files: 1972, 1982, 1992, 2004, 2008, and 2014 are now available. This file has been updated with new 2014 data from Barron’s American College Profiles (2015 edition). It is available as a restricted-use data file. The data is based on 4-year colleges and universities. The Barron’s ratings can be linked to the elementary/secondary and postsecondary longitudinal studies and can be used for the analysis of 4-year colleges and universities using the NCES postsecondary institution IDs. Contact IES Data Security to request access.

June 2011:

Online Bibliography Search Tool

Search for publications featuring data from NELS:88 including citations published from 1985 to August 2010.

December 2010:

NELS data can now be downloaded using the "EDAT" web application on the NCES website. Click on the EDAT tab, above, to access Public-use data from NELS:1988/92, NELS:1988/94, and NELS:1988/2000.


highlight icon of a check mark Recent Publications

May 7, 2015:

Digest of Education Statistics, 2013

December 31, 2013:

Digest of Education Statistics, 2012

July 17, 2012:

Trends Among Young Adults Over Three Decades, 1974-2006

June 13, 2012:

Digest of Education Statistics, 2011

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