IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Where Are They Now? Following up with High School Ninth-Graders Seven Years Later

By Lauren Musu-Gillette and Elise Christopher

Seventy-two percent of all fall 2009 ninth-graders had enrolled in postsecondary education by February 2016, about 3 years after most students had completed high school. Among these students who enrolled in postsecondary education, the majority (82 percent) had enrolled within 4 months of leaving high school. These findings come from the most recent wave
of the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09). HSLS:09 follows a nationally representative sample of students who were ninth-graders in fall 2009 from the beginning of high school into higher education and the workforce. 

Among all 2009 ninth-graders who had enrolled in postsecondary education by February 2016, about 36 percent first enrolled at a public 2-year college, 41 percent at a public 4-year college, 16 percent at a private nonprofit 4-year college, and the remainder (7 percent) attended a for-profit or other type of institution.

A higher percentage of females (77 percent) than males (68 percent) had enrolled in any postsecondary education by February 2016. Additionally, a higher percentage of Asian students (88 percent) had enrolled in postsecondary education than students of all other racial/ethnic groups shown. The percentage of enrollees was also higher for White students (76 percent) than for Black students (65 percent), Hispanic students (68 percent), and students of Other or Two or more races (69 percent).


Percentage of fall 2009 ninth-graders enrolled in postsecondary education as of February 2016, by race/ethnicity: 2016

NOTE: Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) Second Follow-Up: A First Look at Fall 2009 Ninth-Graders in 2016.


Twenty-two percent of fall 2009 ninth-graders who had enrolled in postsecondary education after high school had not attained a postsecondary credential but were no longer enrolled as of February 2016. When asked to select one or more reasons for leaving postsecondary education without earning a credential, 48 percent selected personal or family reasons, 40 percent picked financial reasons, 24 percent chose academic reasons, 22 percent chose work-related reasons, and 9 percent chose none of these.

The data collected in this 2016 follow-up collection allow researchers to examine an array of outcomes among fall 2009 ninth-graders, including delayed high school completion, postsecondary enrollment, early postsecondary persistence and attainment, labor market experiences, family formation, and family financial support. Analyses of these outcomes can capitalize on data already gathered about the students in fall 2009, in spring 2012 (when most were 11th-graders), and in summer and fall 2013 (when most had completed high school). HSLS:09 is also collecting students’ postsecondary financial aid records and postsecondary transcripts in 2017 and 2018. A First Look report and data from these documents are scheduled for release in 2019.

Educational attainment differences by students’ socioeconomic status

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

Obtaining higher education can be an important step towards better occupational and economic outcomes. Lower levels of educational attainment are associated with higher unemployment rates and lower earnings. Although an increasing number of students have enrolled in postsecondary institutions over the last several decades, there are still differences in the characteristics of students who complete various levels of postsecondary education.

One particularly important issue to explore is differences in educational attainment by socioeconomic status (SES) to investigate the opportunities for social mobility that education can provide. Recently, NCES published a spotlight indicator on this topic to be included in the annual Condition of Education report. The report uses data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002), which surveyed students at different points during their secondary and postsecondary years. Students were first surveyed in 2002 when they were sophomores in high school. Then, their highest level of education was assessed ten years later, in 2012.


Percentage distribution of highest level of educational attainment of spring 2002 high school sophomores in 2012, by socioeconomic status (SES)

1 Includes education at any type of postsecondary institution, but with no earned postsecondary credential. 
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002). See Digest of Education Statistics 2014table 104.91.


Several key findings highlight differences in educational attainment by SES. For example:

  • Seven percent of low-SES students had not completed high school by 2012, greater than the percentages of middle- and high-SES students who had not completed high school by 2012;
  • By 2012, Fourteen percent of low-SES students who were high school sophomores in 2002 had earned a bachelor’s or higher degree, smaller than 29 percent of middle-SES students and 60 percent of high-SES students who earned a bachelor’s or higher degree; and
  • Compared to high-SES students, smaller percentages of low- and middle-SES students who performed in the highest quartile of math achievement during their sophomore year of high school went on to complete a bachelor’s degree by 2012.

Percentage of spring 2002 high school sophomores who earned a bachelor's degree or higher by 2012, by socioeconomic status (SES) and mathematics achievement quartile in 2002

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002). See Digest of Education Statistics 2014table 104.91.


The following video describes additional findings from the report:

College and career readiness: Using ELS:2002 to study important educational outcomes

By Elise Christopher and Lauren Musu-Gillette

Researchers, educators, and policy makers are interested in knowing what makes students ready for college and careers, and the Department of Education has identified college and career readiness as a priority. In 2011, the Department announced that it would allow for Elementary/Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility for states that developed plans for reforms in certain key areas of education, including college and career readiness.  In order to investigate what factors may be associated with college and career outcomes, several important questions arise. For example:

  • How do students’ high school experiences relate to whether or not they have to enroll in remedial courses in college?
  • How do these same experiences relate to whether or not they successfully complete college?
  • What high school and college experiences are associated with successful career choices?

Questions like these are best answered with longitudinal surveys, which track the paths of students as they transition from school to college and the work force.  The longitudinal surveys conducted by NCES contain a wide variety of survey components that enable researchers to address policy-related topics across disciplines.  Such longitudinal data can be expensive and time consuming to collect, particularly if they are nationally representative with sufficient sample sizes to analyze barriers faced by disadvantaged young adults. Building a sound statistical foundation for these important analyses is one of the key contributions NCES makes when producing datasets such as the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002) for the education and research community.

ELS:2002 began by collecting data from a nationally representative cohort of students who were in the 10th grade in 2002. Follow up surveys were collected from these same students in 2004, 2006, and 2012. Some students enrolled in postsecondary institutions after high school, while others entered the workforce. ELS:2002 can be used to examine the educational and occupational paths of students over time, as well as the different factors that are associated with those paths.

ELS:2002 collected a wide variety of information including students’ school experiences and activities, plans for the future, family circumstances, and beliefs about themselves. Many variables in the ELS:2002 dataset are available to the public with no restrictions. The data are easily accessible for individuals who may be interested in examining how a variety of different backgrounds and experiences may affect students’ college and career readiness. Some variables are not in the public datasets to ensure that identities of survey respondents are protected, but are available to researchers who apply for a restricted use license.

Use of datasets such as ELS:2002 can assist researchers, educators and policy makers in answering important questions about how to prepare our students for college and careers.  For more information on accessing and using ELS:2002 data, please refer to information about available data, see our detailed selection of users manuals, or email the ELS:2002 staff.