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Policy and Research Issues: Introduction

The National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 (NLS-72) is the grandmother of the longitudinal studies designed and conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education.

Researchers have drawn on this archive since its inception. The history of the Class of `72 from its high school years through its early 30s is widely considered as the baseline against which the progress and achievements of subsequent cohorts have been and will be measured.

The policy issues to be studied through NLS-72 include the identification of school attributes associated with achievement; the influence of parent and community involvement on students' achievement and development; the dynamics and determinants of dropping out of the educational system; changes in educational practices over time; and the transition of different groups (for example, racial and ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic status groups) from high school to postsecondary institutions and the labor market. NLS-72 will inquire into the influence of students' values and goals; investigate home, school and personal factors affecting risk and resiliency; gather information about the social capital available to sample members; delineate students' curricular and extracurricular experiences and determine their later impact; and comprehensively catalogue students' school programs, coursetaking experiences, and cognitive outcomes.

Basic elements that are encompassed in the NLS:-72 research instruments can be classified in three broad categories: background information (normally collected in the base year only), process information (information about dynamic influences on the student, in the home, school, and community environment, as he or she moves through secondary school and beyond into the world of postsecondary education and the adult workforce), and outcome information (the eventual outcomes of the transition process). Below are examples of the content of the NLS-72 research instruments:

Social Background

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Family income
  • Family structure & composition
  • Parent education & employment
  • Languages spoken
  • Parental aspirations for child
  • Health history
  • Prior school experience

Test Battery and School Record

  • Vocabulary
  • Picture number
  • Reading
  • Letter groups
  • Mathematics
  • Mosaic Comparisons
  • Student’s School Record Information Form

Home Educational Support System

  • Involvement in education
  • Cognitive stimulation
  • Discipline and monitoring

Postsecondary Education Choice and Enrollment

  • Postsecondary institutions applied to and accepted by
  • Financial aid offered
  • Postsecondary enrollment
  • Financial aid received while enrolled
  • Work and earnings while enrolled


  • Jobs held and salaries
  • Working conditions and benefits


  • Tested achievement in reading and math
  • Achievement growth over time
  • Grades
  • Retention/promotion
  • High School persistence/dropout
  • Socioemotional development
  • Engagement in school
  • Postsecondary access and entry, persistence, and attainment
  • Labor market outcomes
  • Family formation and citizenship

While the content blocks above can be taken as the basic constituents of the NLS-72 instruments, one can also view the study through a more policy-oriented perspective. This can be achieved by looking at examples of specific policy issues that NLS-72 can address, across the broad policy domains of equity/access/choice, cognitive growth and its correlates, course-taking opportunities and choices, school effectiveness; and parental and community involvement.