Educational Attainment & School Enrollment

Educational Attainment & School Enrollment



TheNLSY79 Child surveys contain educational attainment and school enrollment information, linked to each child, for: (1) children assessed during each child survey year, (2) NLSY79 mothers, and (3) members of the mother's household such as spouse, partner, or other adult household members.  The types of education information available for young adults are discussed in the Young Adult section below.

The Child schooling items, first added in 1996, were drawn primarily from the 1988 National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS88).  These questions on parent involvement, teacher style, and classroom practices are addressed directly to children ages 6 and older in 1996-1998 and to children ages 8 and older starting in 2000.

Some NLSY researchers have merged schooling information from other sources with the NLSY79 Child data by using information on the child’s grade, county and state of residence. One possible external data source is the Common Core Data (CCD), which contains information on public schools and on the characteristics of students both at the school and district levels. Another possible external source of information on school characteristics is the School and Staffing Survey (SASS).

County and state of residence are available at each survey round of the NLSY79 main Youth respondents (and their children) and can be obtained as a restricted data file from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For details on these geographic variables, consult the section on Geographic Residence & Geocode Data. The geographic data in the main NLSY79 survey, that can be merged with the child data, are described in the Geographic Residence & Neighborhood Composition section of the NLSY79 topical guide.

Enrollment and grade

Current school enrollment and grade information is collected from the mother at each survey point for children ages four years or older.  Grade information is gathered for those children currently attending and, if not currently attending, for those who have ever attended regular school.  Since 2002, the question names for school enrollment and grade are CS-ATTEND and CS-GRADE, respectively.  School enrollment and grade information questions are assigned to the year-specific CHILD SUPPLEMENT area of interest. 

Preschool and Head Start

Post-1986 child surveys include questions, posed to the mother, for children three years of age or older (under age 9 in 1990) on whether the children attend nursery school or a preschool program or had ever been enrolled in preschool, day care, or Head Start.  The Head Start series provides information on age first attended, length of time attending, and how satisfied the child's mother is with the Head Start program.  The mothers of NLSY79 children are asked, as Main Youth respondents interviewed in 1994, if they had attended Head Start as a preschooler (Q3-31, R45317.).

School experiences

Starting in 1988, mothers of school-age children (ten or older 1988-1994; five and older starting in 1996) are asked for additional information on their child's schooling experiences.  For children attending school, mothers are asked what type of school their child attends.  They are asked if the school is "public," "private," or "religious," and whether the second identifies the school as a "school for gifted children," a "school for handicapped children," or a "regular public or private school."  In the main Youth interview the mother also gives information on the type of school the child currently attends or last attended with the following categories:  1 Elementary School, 2 Middle School/Intermediate School/Junior High School, 3 High School, 4 Two Year College, Community College, or Junior College, 5 Four Year College or University.  Note that mothers report this school type information for all children of school age.

The introduction of CAPI in 1998 enabled CHRR to recode verbatim responses to the "other-specify" verbatim responses to these school-type questions.  Starting in 2000, the procedure used for documenting the recodes changed so that the school type question (BGN-20-RC) now contains only verbatim recodes for question BKGN-20.  (In contrast, the 1998 variable MS98TYPSCHL contained all response values plus recoded "other specify" verbatims.)

Information is also collected for children attending school on:  (1) whether the child attends special classes for remedial or advanced work and (2) whether the child has ever repeated a grade and, if so, the reason(s), e.g., the child failed academically (too young or immature, moved to a more difficult school, was truant, frequently absent, etc.).  Reasons for not attending school are identified by the mother according to the following categories:  expulsion or suspension; physical, emotional, or mental condition; the school was closed; or the child's father would not let the child attend.

School ratings and satisfaction

Child report school rating. During the child interviews, children ages ten and older report on the characteristics of their school and satisfaction with their school.  The rating and satisfaction items, introduced in 1988 for children 10 and over, include the following:  (1) most teachers don't know their subjects well; (2) most teachers help with personal problems; (3) most classes are boring; (4) don't feel safe at this school; (5) at this school a person has the freedom to learn, etc.  With the exception of item 1, which is phrased in the affirmative in the main Youth and Young Adult surveys, this scale is the same as one addressed to the mother in 1979.  The school rating questions addressed to the child are assigned to the CHILD SELF-ADMINISTERED SUPPLEMENT area of interest. The following is a list of the school rating items:

School Rating Item Question Names (1988-1998) Question Name (2000-current)
It's easy to make friends at this school. CS884143, CS906463, CS926611, CS942243, CS960613, CS98023A CSAS023A
Most of the teachers are willing to help with personal problems. CS884144, CS906465, CS926613, CS942245, CS960615, CS98023B CSAS023B
Most of my classes are boring. CS884145, CS906467, CS926615, CS942247, CS960617, CS98023C CSAS023C
I don't feel safe at this school. CS884146, CS906469, CS926617, CS942249, CS960619, CS98023D CSAS023D
Most of my teachers don't know their subjects well. CS884147, CS906471, CS926619, CS942251, CS960621, CS98023E CSAS023E
You can get away with almost anything at this school. CS884148, CS906473, CS92662, CS942253, CS960623, CS98023F CSAS023F
My schoolwork requires me to think to the best of my abilities. CS884149, CS906475, CS926623, CS942255, CS960625, CS98023G CSAS023G
At this school, a person has the freedom to learn what interests him or her. CS884150, CS906477, CS926625, CS942257, CS960627, CS98023H CSAS023H

Mother report school rating. Through 1998 the Mother Supplement contained a series of items rating the children's school as reported by the mother (Q.16 in the MS 1998).  Each mother-report school rating item is prefaced with the phrase: "What grade would you give the school for ...?" In 2000 these questions were moved to the Child CAPI Supplement but in 2002 they are back in the Mother Supplement in the CASI section.  In 2000-2004, the school rating series has the same question names: BKGN-43A to BKGN-43H.  Since 2006, the school rating series questions are named MS-BKGN-43A to MS-BKGN-43H.  The mother-report school rating items, in which she grades the school performance, can be found in the MOTHER SUPPLEMENT through 1998, the CHILD SUPPLEMENT in 2000, and back in the MOTHER SUPPLEMENT area of interest from 2002 to the present.

Important Information

One method for identifying these mother-report school rating items is to use the Variable Search tab in Investigator.  For school rating items prior to 2000, users can search on SCHOOL & FAMILY BACKGROUND: GRADE in the Search Word in Title field in Investigator.  For survey years 2000 to present, users can select Search Question Name, and enter the search terms listed below.

Survey Years Variable Search Category
Logical Operator Search Term
1988-1998 Word in Title (enter search term) contains SCHOOL & FAMILY BACKGROUND: GRADE
2000-2004 Question Name (enter search term) starts with BKGN-43
2006-present Question Name (enter search term) starts with MS-BKGN-43

Homework and parent involvement

In 1996, the schooling section of the survey was augmented for both the children aged 10 to 14 and the young adults.  This expansion, which has continued to the current survey round, asks children about the extent of involvement by their parents in homework and the school.  The NLSY79 Child questions on parent involvement and time spent on homework can be found in the National Household Education Surveys (NHES) parent questionnaire, section on parent/family involvement in education ("Now I have some questions about CHILD's homework. How often does CHILD do homework at home?  Would you say never, less than once a week, 1 to 2 times week, 3 to 4 times a week, or 5 or more times a week?"  pg.1).  The NLSY79 Child schooling series also solicits information on the frequency of specific teaching and learning activities and the use of certain materials in the classroom.

Starting in 1998, children have been asked about homework as part of the Child Self-Administered Supplement.  Questions include whether they do homework after school, whether there are rules about doing homework, how much say they have about rules about doing homework, and how often they argue with parents about homework.  Since 2002, children have been asked how often they use a computer to do homework or schoolwork.

Child School Survey

A separate, one-time survey was conducted in 1995-1996 of the schools attended by NLSY79 children (over the age of five) in the 1994 and 1995 school years.  See the "School Survey" section of this guide for more information.

Survey Instruments School enrollment; current grade: Child Supplement
Satisfaction with school: Child-Self-Administered Supplement
Homework: Schooling section of the Child Supplement
Mother reports of preschool enrollment and school experiences: Mother Supplement
Areas of Interest CHILD SUPPLEMENT


Young Adult

Created variables

HGC_DLI (Y12113.00). Highest grade completed as of date of last interview.

HSTDEGREEDLI (Y12121.00). Highest academic degree received as of date of last interview.

HGC2012 (Y29666.00). Highest grade of school completed as of the 2012 interview. This variable is also available for 2004 (Y16729.00), 2006 (Y19487.00), 2008 (Y22673.00), and 2010 (Y26162.00).

HSTDEGREE2012 (Y29667.00). Highest academic degree received as of 2012.

The Young Adult survey collects information about enrollment status, school experiences, and educational aspirations. All respondents are asked if they are currently enrolled. Older Young Adults who are not currently enrolled are asked if they have been enrolled at all since the date of last interview. For most older Young Adults who say no, this is the exit point from the schooling questions. However, if no high school diploma or GED has previously been reported, respondents are asked whether one has been obtained. Also, older respondents who were attending college at their last interview point are asked about degree completion since the date of last interview, even if they report no enrollment either currently or since the date of last interview.

More details are provided below but as an overview, Young Adults who are currently enrolled or who have reported school attendance since the date of last interview, as well as younger Young Adults who are not currently enrolled, are asked a wide range of questions concerning their education. First time Young Adult respondents answer core questions about repeating or skipping grades and dropping out. Additionally, questions are asked about (1) school quality and time spent on homework, as well as practices used by teachers and parental involvement in homework and the school community, for respondents currently in grades 1-12; (2) the use of career planning or college preparation services, for respondents who are high school juniors or seniors; (3) the names of colleges and/or universities applied to and whether or not the respondent was accepted to them, for respondents in twelfth grade or first year in college; and (4) the name, type of school, major, degree receipt and financial assistance, for respondents in post-secondary education, either currently or since the date of last interview. Respondents are branched according to both enrollment status and highest grade completed. 

Young Adults who are still in secondary school have, since 1994, been asked a single question to measure their satisfaction with their school, plus a series of questions on the characteristics of their school. This scale was asked of the NLSY79 respondents in 1979. Between 1994 and 1998, this series was asked of respondents currently enrolled in grades 12 and lower. Since 2000, only new young adults in grade 12 or lower answer the full scale; others in grade 12 or lower are asked about school satisfaction only. The same scale, with slight modifications, is also included in the Child Self-Administered Supplement. This series asks respondents how true the following statements are:

  • It's easy to make friends at this school.
  • Most of the teachers are willing to help with personal problems.
  • Most of my classes are boring.
  • I don't feel safe at this school.
  • Most of my teachers really know their subjects well.
  • You can get away with almost anything at this school.
  • At this school, a person has the freedom to learn what interests him or her.
  • This school offers good job counseling.

Questions concerning time spent on homework, practices used by teachers, and parental involvement in homework and the school community were included on the survey in 1996 and continue to be asked of all respondents enrolled in grade 12 or lower. The questions on parent involvement and time spent on homework are taken from the National Household Education Surveys (NHES) parent questionnaire, section on parent/family involvement in education. The questions to measure practices used by teachers solicits information on the frequency of specific teaching and learning activities and the use of certain materials in the classroom. These questions were also asked in the Child Survey of children ages 6 to 14 in 1996-1998 and to children ages 8 to 14 starting in 2000.

Since 1994, High School juniors and seniors have been asked a series of questions to ascertain whether or not they used various school services such as career placement counseling and/or job fairs. They are also asked whether or not they received information or help around college preparation such as help with filling out applications and/or financial aid forms.

Beginning in 2000, Young Adults enrolled in either 12th grade or the first year of college have been asked a sequence of questions concerning college applications and acceptances. Data on how many colleges were applied to and whether or not the respondent was accepted into each one are available on the public release. Since 1994, Young Adults who report attending post-secondary education, either currently or since the date of last interview, have been asked when they first/most recently began attending college, the name of their college or university, their field of study, and whether or not they have received an academic degree. Since 2000, those who are not currently enrolled but who have been enrolled since the date of last interview are asked when they stopped attending college. Also since 2000, those who report receiving a degree are asked the month and year they received the degree. From 1994 to 1998, those respondents who were enrolled either currently or since the date of last interview were asked a series of questions about financing their college experience. These respondents were asked whether they were full- or part-time students and the amount of full-time tuition and fees at their college. They were asked whether they received a loan, how much of their costs the loan covered, what other forms of financial aid they received, and if anyone other than a spouse/partner helped pay for college. Since 2000, these questions have been asked only of those currently enrolled, and those who report receiving a loan have been asked the amount of the loan. Since 2004, those reporting that someone other than a spouse/partner has helped them pay have been asked who all helped them.

Federal Interagency Committee on Education (FICE) codes and UNITID codes from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) database for colleges/universities attended or applied to are available only on the Geocode release (for more information about applying to obtain the Geocode release, go to

Educational Aspirations and Expectations

Since 1994, the Young Adult survey has included two questions:  what is the highest grade the respondent would like to complete and what is the highest grade the respondent expects to complete. From 1994 to 1998, these were asked of all respondents. Since 2000, only new Young Adults have answered them.

Created education variables

Since 2004, we have created two highest grade completed variables. One is round-specific and measures the highest grade completed as of that round for all respondents interviewed in that survey round, whether or not they reported attending school. The second is a cross-round variable that includes all Young Adults ever interviewed and measures to the highest grade completed as of the date of each respondent’s last interview. In 2012, we created a new series of variables related to degree completion. This series includes a round-specific highest academic degree completed for all respondents interviewed in that survey year and a cross-round highest academic degree completed variable for all Young Adults ever interviewed. Also available are a set of cross-round variables on the completion of specific degrees: GED, High School diploma, Associate's degree, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Master's degree, PhD, and professional degrees. For each type of academic degree reported, there is a flag indicating whether that specific degree has been completed as well as variables indicating the month and year in which the degree was received.   

In constructing these academic degree completion variables, all verbatims associated with any “other degree” responses were carefully evaluated. If any of these fit into one of our more specific categories (Associate's degree, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Master's degree, PhD, and professional degrees), they were then recoded into that degree category. The remaining “other” answers were diplomas and certificates that are not technically academic degrees. Users should be aware that receipt of these diplomas and certificates is not included in either the round-specific or the cross-round highest degree completed variables as they are not academic degrees.

Comparison to Other NLS Surveys:  Enrollment status in the past year, current enrollment status, highest grade attended and completed, and degrees and diplomas received have been collected for all cohorts except the Older Men. Respondents in the Older Men cohort provided information on their highest grade completed and highest college degree received. For the NLSY79, information on grades and courses taken in high school is available through the 1980-83 Transcript Surveys. Respondents have also reported their high school curriculum. Data are recorded for the Children of the NLSY79 on participation in Head Start, grades repeated, and characteristics of the school and curriculum. The Original Cohort respondents provided information on the type of their high school curriculum; however, coding categories for curricula were quite different for these cohorts. Mature and Young Women also listed types of mathematics courses taken in high school. 

The NLSY79 survey in 1980 included several questions on school discipline problems, that is, whether respondents had ever been suspended or expelled from school, and if so, the number of times, date of most recent disciplinary action, and when/if the youth had returned to school. Information was collected on behavior problems evidenced by children of NLSY79 respondents that resulted in either the parent's notification or disciplinary action. NLSY97 respondents are asked whether they have been suspended and, if so, for what periods. The Young Women and the Young Men surveys ask respondents whether they have ever been suspended or expelled from school. For more precise details about the content of each survey, consult the appropriate cohort's User's Guide using the tabs above for more information.

For more details about specific survey years in which these data were gathered, refer to the appropriate cohort's User's Guide.

Survey Instruments Questions on educational attainment and school enrollment are found in the Young Adult Instrument, Section 4, Regular Schooling.
Area of Interest YA School (public data)
YA Geocode data (FICE codes and UNITID Codes)