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