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Teachers College Record

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Social work with youth, Young adults


Background/Context: There is an expansive body of research concerning high school graduation; however, most studies omit students who persist through four years of high school without earning a diploma. In addition, there is scant research exploring longer-term outcomes among students whose academic trajectories do not fit within the traditional four-year model of high school graduation, including eventual graduation, post-secondary enrollment, or engagement in the workforce.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The current study addresses the substantive gaps in research regarding high school non-completion by examining the college and workforce outcomes of persisters—defined here as students who do not formally withdraw from high school, nor earn a regular diploma, four years after entering high school as a first-time ninth grader.

Research Design: The present study accessed five years of linked, longitudinal, student level administrative data from the Maryland Longitudinal Data System. Multilevel models assessed the relationship between student- and school-level factors with the odds of students earning a high school diploma four years after beginning their first-freshmen year. Independent variables included student-level demographic and academic indicators and school-level concentrations of student characteristics.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study offers a first look into the academic and employment trajectories of an understudied and high-risk group of young adults. The multilevel examination of student- and school-level factors indicated that on-time graduation for 4-year persisters should be understood as a function of students within their academic HIGH SCHOOL COMPLETION IN CONTEXT iii environment. Overall, persisters had less favorable college and workforce outcomes when compared to students who earned a high school diploma, suggesting the need for interventions that promote college and workforce readiness across the population of persisters. The findings presented herein suggest that the phenomenon of persisting should be considered, along with dropout, as a critical element of a more informed analysis of high school graduation. Implications for research, policy, and practice are discussed.


This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Teachers College Record. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Teachers College Record, Volume 121 Number 10, 2019, p. 1-28.

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