Research Allies for Lifelong Learning

High School Non-Completers at Age 26 – How Did They Fare?

Ever wonder what happens 10 years later to young adults who left high school without completing? New longitudinal research provides a glimpse into their demographics, living arrangements, and financial experiences. In January 2014 NCES released its First Look report (Lauff & Ingels, 2014) on the final wave of the Education Longitudinal Study (ELS). This study, which began with more than 15,000 high school sophomores in 752 schools in 2002, wound up its last round of data collection with more than 13,000 young adults in 2012, when the former high school students were approximately age 26. Approximately 500 students (3.1% of the original sample) left high school without finishing and are now young adults with no high school diploma or equivalency. 

How did demographics of high school non-completers (3.1%) compare? They tended to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, with low expectations for their education and low GPA in high school.

  • Those who didn’t complete high school tended to be male (3.7% of non-completers in the full sample were male vs. 2.5% female)
  • Their parents dropped out proportionately more (6.4% of non-completers in the full sample) than had a bachelor degree (1.6% of non-completers in the full sample)
  • Their parents’ socio-economic status tended to be low (7.0% of non-completers in the lowest quartile of the full sample vs. 0.5% of non-completers in the highest quartile)
  • They may have seen dropout in their future and tended to have low expectations for their own education in tenth grade – 12.3% of the non-completers expected less than a high school diploma, 5.7% expected some college, and 1.7% expected a bachelor degree
  • Their grades in high school tended to be low (11.3% of the non-completers in the full sample had a GPA of less than 2.0 vs. 0.6% of the non-completers who had a GPA between 2.0 and 3.0)

For more information:
Lauff, E., and Ingels, S.J. (2014). Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002): A first look at 2002 high school sophomores 10 years later (NCES 2014-363). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from