Does making upper secondary school more comprehensive affect dropout rates, educational attainment and earnings? Evidence from a Swedish pilot scheme

Summary of Working paper 2009:9

Since the mid-20th century many OECD countries have discarded their previous se­lec­tive schools systems, in which students early on were separated between academic and vo­­cational tracks, in favor of more comprehensive schools. The effects of these reforms have ge­ne­ral­ly been difficult to evaluate and their consequences for students’ edu­ca­tio­nal and labor market outcomes remain disputed. This paper evaluates the ef­fects of the introduction of a more comprehensive upper secondary school system in Swe­den in the 1990s. The reform reduced the differences between the academic and vo­ca­­tio­nal edu­ca­tio­nal tracks through prolonging and substantially increasing the aca­demic content of all vo­­ca­tio­nal tracks. The effects of this policy change are identified by exploiting a six year pilot scheme, which preceded the actual reform in some municipalities. The results show that the pro­­longation of the vocational tracks brought about an increased pro­ba­bi­li­ty of drop­ping out among low performing students. Though one important motive be­hind the po­licy change was to enable all upper secondary school graduates to pursue a uni­versity de­­gree, I find no effects on university enrolment or graduation. There are some indications, however, that at­ten­ding the longer and more academic vo­ca­tional track may have led to in­creased earnings in the long run.

Keywords: Upper secondary education, comprehensive school system, educational at­tain­ment, earnings, instrumental variables
JEL-codes: I21, I28