After High School, Then What?

A Look at the Postsecondary Sorting-Out Process for American Youth

by Gus Haggstrom, Thomas J. Blaschke, Richard J. Shavelson


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This study examines patterns of military service, college enrollment, and civilian labor force participation among recent high school graduates and dropouts, and the key factors affecting the postsecondary sorting-out process in the 1980s, with special attention to the flows of high school graduates into and out of educational activities and military service. A comprehensive database was compiled for this study, drawing on the High School and Beyond longitudinal study of more than 26,000 high school seniors in the classes of 1980 and 1982. The authors derived estimates and projections of numbers of high school graduates by state, sex, race, and Hispanic origin for the years 1980-2000. The findings indicate that activity patterns during the first year after leaving school have remained remarkably stable since the early 1970s, with some increases in both college enrollment and military enlistment rates in the early 1980s. Analyses of activities during the rest of the five-year period following high school reveal considerable turbulence, much of it into and out of short-term civilian jobs. The findings indicate that a substantial proportion of high school seniors in the 1980s lacked direction when they left school, and that their subsequent activities were marked by false starts and backtracking. The authors conclude that the United States made poor use of its human resources during the 1980s and will be hard put to meet its manpower requirements in the 1990s.

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