Exploring the Short-Term Outcomes of North Carolina High School Graduates

Exploring the post-graduation paths of high school graduates can provide valuable information to help education and workforce stakeholders make data-informed policy and program decisions.

Author: Oleksandr Movchan

In collaboration with the Hunt’s Institute’s Informed Decision-Making Collaborative, the Labor and Economic Analysis Division carried out a use case study in 2022 to examine the outcomes of North Carolina public high school graduates. This blog article outlines the main findings of the case study. Most of these results can be also viewed through the new NCTOWER which now includes education and employment outcomes of the NC public high school graduates.

The case study examines nearly 90,000 individuals who graduated from public high school in the 2014-15 school year. In-state employment rates for high school students who graduated in 2014-2015 remained consistently between 70% and 80% over the six years after graduation, as depicted in Figure 1a. Notably, female graduates had higher employment rates.

Female high school graduates also exhibited higher rates of enrollment in post-secondary education programs (Figures 1c and 1d). There was an increase in university enrollment during the third and fourth year (Figure 1c), which can be attributed to the Career & College Promise (CCP) program1, when many students initially earn credits at the Community Colleges level and then transfer to the UNC System universities.

Despite their higher educational attainment, females tend to earn less than their male counterparts. Figure 1b illustrates a persistent gender pay gap in the years following high school.

Despite their higher educational attainment, females tend to earn less than their male counterparts. Figure 1b illustrates a persistent gender pay gap in the years following high school.

Post-Graduation Outcomes by Gender

The following charts illustrate the post-graduation paths of NC high school graduates based on race. Figure 2a shows that a larger proportion of black students entered the workforce immediately after graduating from high school. Conversely, a higher share of white and other racial backgrounds opted to pursue undergraduate degrees at 4-year universities as shown in Figure 2c. Hispanic students, on the other hand, demonstrated a higher enrollment rate in 2-year degree programs (Figure 2d).

Post-Graduation Outcomes by Race

The following charts present postgraduation outcomes for students who participated in Advanced Placement (AP)2 program. As for employment and wage outcomes, Figures 3a and 3b illustrate that AP students had slightly lower rates in employment compared to the non-AP cohort and lower earnings in the first four years after high school. This is likely because the majority of the AP students were pursuing their undergraduate degrees during that period. The AP program allows high school students to take college-level courses and potentially earn college credit. Thus, it's not surprising to see that students who participated in AP have over three times higher enrollment in universities after high school, as shown in Figure 3c. However, starting from the fifth year, AP students experienced a significant acceleration in their earnings (Figure 3b).

On the other hand, non-AP students are more commonly enrolled in 2-year programs at community colleges, as depicted in Figure 3d.

Post-Graduation Outcomes by Advanced Placement Status

Figures 4a-4d examine the post-graduation outcomes of high school graduates in North Carolina based on their Economically Disadvantaged Student (EDS)3 status.

There is a slight difference in employment rates between EDS and non-EDS students, as shown in Figure 4a. However, students identified as EDS have significantly lower rates of enrollment in 4-year postsecondary programs, nearly half as much as their non-EDS counterparts (Figure 4c). Additionally, EDS students have slightly lower chances of enrolling in community college programs (Figure 4D). These disparities in post-secondary education enrollment directly contribute to the widening gap in earnings that becomes apparent five years after high school graduation (Figure 4b). This is because many students from non-EDS backgrounds were pursuing their college or university degrees during the first 4 years and were able to secure higher-paying jobs after they graduated.

Post-Graduation Outcomes by EDS Status

Overall, this case study has uncovered numerous intriguing patterns in the post-graduation trajectories of North Carolina high school graduates. It is hoped that these findings will offer valuable insights and inspire further research in this area. More information about the outcomes of high school graduates can be found in NCTOWER.

The case study was made possible with data support from various partners in the Common Follow-up System (CFS). It also demonstrated the importance and effectiveness of a mature longitudinal data system equipped with a well-developed data infrastructure and analytical capabilities to carry out insightful analyses to support evidence-based public policy.




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