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High School Graduation and Coursework: Class of 2013

In its second follow-up of the 2009 class of ninth graders, the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that 89 percent graduated on time in 2013, and another 3 percent acquired a high school equivalency certificate. Some 4 percent had dropped out, and an identical percentage remained in high school, presumably due to repeating a grade.

This longitudinal study of about 20,000 9th graders is the latest in a series of cohort studies of the long-term educational and employment experiences of high school students, dating back to Project Talent’s study of high school students in 1960.  NCES expects to follow the current cohort through at least age 30.  The next follow-up survey is scheduled for 2016, three years after most of the cohort will have graduated from high school.  In this summary, page references to the study are shown in parentheses.

 Graduating or Dropping Out

High school graduation rates differed dramatically by socioeconomic status, with 97 percent in the highest group graduating vs. only 81 percent in the lowest group.  Dropout patterns mirrored graduation findings, with 7 percent from the lowest socioeconomic group dropping vs. only 1 percent from the highest group (11).  Socioeconomic status is a measure based on a combination of parental educational attainment and occupation, and family income (A-15). 


By 2013, the average youth had earned 24.8 credits (one credit means a full year course).  On average, private school students earned about 3 more credits than public school students, and students in the highest socioeconomic group earned about 3.5 more credits than those from the lowest socioeconomic group (12).  The study’s sample size was sufficient to report state-specific public school data for 10 states:  within these there was a fairly large variation in total credits, from 22 to 27 (15).

Nearly two-fifths (37 percent) of students had completed advanced credit courses, either from Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses (18). The average student earned 3.0 credits in career and technical education, 1.3 credits in engineering or technology courses, and another 1.0 credits in computer or information science courses (12, 17).

 For historical trends in high school coursework, see High School Coursework Over 3 Decades.  However, these new data are not comparable with previous data, as the new data include all students, whereas the historical data are restricted to graduates only.

Future Plans

The study also showed widespread indecision among young people:  by the November following graduation, nearly a quarter (22.7 percent) were undecided as to whether they would take postsecondary classes or work.  In the lowest socioeconomic group, 30.7 percent were undecided and another 7.0 percent were neither working nor going to school.  In the highest group, the corresponding proportions were 19.3 and 2.3 percent, respectively (21).  Among high school completers, 73.4 were taking postsecondary classes.  The remaining 26.6 weren’t, comprised of 15.6 percent who didn’t apply, 2.7 percent who applied but weren’t accepted, and the remaining 8.3 percent who were accepted but didn’t attend (22).


Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents were working, at an average hourly wage of $9.10 and for 26.6 hours weekly.  Half (50.6 percent) worked full-time, and the remaining 14.4 percent worked part-time.  Only 26.7 percent of those from the lowest socioeconomic group didn’t work, compared with 40.8 percent from the highest group (25). 

This 80-page study is available at High School Longitudinal Study of 2009, 2013 Update and High School Transcript Study: A First Look at Fall 2009 Ninth-Graders in 2013