Study finds that 40% of high school graduates from 2013 who began pursuing a degree or credential did not complete it.

A recent study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that approximately 40% of high school graduates who enrolled in college or a certification program in 2013 did not obtain a degree or credential within eight years.

An in-depth analysis tracked 23,000 students from the outset of their high school freshman year in 2009. Despite 74% transitioning to college post-graduation, nearly half did not secure any postsecondary credential by June 2021. This cohort marks the fifth group examined by the NCES for postsecondary outcomes, with the unique inclusion of being the first cohort tracked since ninth grade. These studies furnish valuable insights for researchers and policymakers into students’ educational journeys beyond high school.

Comparatively, the previous cohort of 2002 graduates recorded a higher college enrollment rate at 84% and a completion rate of 52%. While the study lacks direct input from students on reasons for not completing their education, it offers a glimpse into the graduating seniors’ landscape during that period. The diverse characteristics of the 2013 cohort, including gender, race, income, and the economic context, likely influenced their educational paths. Moreover, students still in school at the onset of the 2020 pandemic likely faced disruptions to their learning.

Elise Christopher, the NCES longitudinal studies director, posits that the 2008 Great Recession could have shaped this cohort’s perspectives on life post-graduation and entry into the workforce. She also suggests that the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act cannot be discounted.

In the early 2000s, policies centered around degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). However, the emphasis on math and reading in the No Child Left Behind Act ran counter to the STEM pipeline push, as noted by Christopher. Interestingly, the most recent study unveiled that the 2013 cohort predominantly pursued degrees in non-STEM fields in their postsecondary education. Among degree earners, over 80% were in unrelated fields, with nearly 30% of males and 14% of females in STEM fields. Asian students exhibited the highest percentage of STEM degrees and certificates, nearing 34%.

In terms of enrollment, more than half of postsecondary students were female. While 39% of them achieved a bachelor’s degree, 32% did not secure any credential. Male students had a lower enrollment rate but mirrored their female counterparts in bachelor’s degree attainment.

The study further explored student demographics, with white students leading in enrollment rates and Asian students topping bachelor’s degree attainment. Hispanic and Black students had lower enrollment rates but also lagged in postsecondary credential completion.

Additionally, an examination of students’ parents’ income and education levels revealed notable differences in educational outcomes. Those with families earning over $115,000 saw higher completion rates compared to those from families earning under $35,000. Notably, students from families with parents having a high school education or below exhibited lower pursuit of higher education post-graduation.

“It’s crucial to delve into the ninth-grade experiences,” remarked Christopher. “However, the full impact of these educational experiences remains unclear without long-term outcome data.”

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