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A FIRST LOOK AT FALL 2009 NINTH-GRADERS IN 2012: New NCES Report Shows Low-Income Students and Students of Color Lagging in High School Course-taking and College Expectations

Although most students expect to complete college, the report raises questions about whether students’ high school courses would adequately prepare them to succeed in college.

The percentage of students expecting to graduate from college increased significantly from the time students were ninth graders to when they reached eleventh grade, according to new results of a longitudinal study from the National Center on Education Statistics (NCES). At the same time, however, the study, formally known as the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09), finds lower expectations for college graduation among low-income students and students of color, compared to their Asian and white peers. The study, which includes approximately 20,000 students in 944 public, charter, and private schools, is the fifth in a series of longitudinal studies that NCES began in 1972 with a cohort of high school seniors and have been continued with each new decade.

These findings, released last month and contained in High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) First Follow-up: A First Look at Fall 2009 Ninth-Graders in 2012, show students becoming more certain of their educational expectations. In 2009, the percentage of ninth graders who were uncertain about their educational expectations was 22 percent—a percentage that had fallen to 11 percent two-and-a-half years later when those students were eleventh graders.

During the same time period, the percentage of students who expected to graduate from college increased from 56 percent to 61 percent, but significant differences in educational expectations emerged between white students and students of color and between affluent and low-income students. For example, 71.8 percent of Asian eleventh graders expected to graduate from college, compared to 64.2 percent of white students, 62.2 percent of black students, and 51.7 percent of Hispanic students. The results were even more stark when broken down by income, showing that 80.5 percent of students from affluent families (highest fifth of socioeconomic status) expected to graduate from college, compared to only 46.1 percent of students from low-income families (lowest fifth of socioeconomic status).

Although most students expect to complete college, the report raises questions about whether students’ high school courses would adequately prepare them to succeed in college. Overall, 36 percent of students reported enrollment in Algebra II while 21 percent enrolled in pre-calculus or calculus; 11 percent of students reported no math enrollment. When broken down by race/ethnicity, 53 percent of Asian students reported enrollment in pre-calculus or calculus compared to 24 percent of white students, 16 percent of Hispanic students, and 12 percent of black students.

Status Percentage
Dropped out
of school
Lower than
Grade 11
Grade 11
Higher than
Grade 11

Of the ninth graders surveyed, more than 96 percent were still in high school two-and-a-half years later. As shown in the table to the right, 91.1 percent of students were, as expected, in eleventh grade while 2.7 percent dropped out and 1.1 percent graduated early.

The longitudinal study focuses on understanding students’ trajectories from the beginning of high school into higher education and the workforce. It also examines students’ paths into and out of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields of study and careers; and the educational and social experiences that are related to shifts in plans or paths. Looking ahead, NCES will conduct a second follow up with the students in the study in 2016, when most sample members will be three years beyond high school graduation. Additional follow ups are planned until students at least reach thirty years of age.

The complete report is available at

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