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Highest grade of schooling completed

Codes and Frequencies

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HIGRADE1 reports the respondent's highest grade of schooling completed, in single grades (for primary and secondary school) or years of college. The information in HIGRADE1 was collected via two questions: "What is the highest grade or year of regular school [person] has ever attended?" and "Did [person] finish the grade/year?"

HIGRADE1 is intended to measure the level of schooling completed, not the number of years the person attended school. To illustrate this point, the Field Representative's Manual provided examples such as the following: "(If) the respondent went to night school for 10 years and is still in her sophomore year of college--circle '2' after college, not '6+.'" Similarly, for persons who skipped or repeated grades, the interviewer was to record the highest level of schooling completed, not the number of years it took.

Detailed instructions on what should and should not be counted as regular schooling (which were not routinely shared with respondents) were included in the Manual for 1982 forward. In its definition of "regular school," the Manual directed, "For this question include regular schooling in graded public, private, or parochial schools, or in colleges, universities, or professional schools, whether day school or night school. Regular schooling is that which advances a person toward an elementary or high school diploma, or a college, university, or professional school degree. Count-schooling in other than regular schools only if the credits obtained are acceptable in the regular school system."

Persons who passed a high school equivalency test (i.e., the GED) or finished high school in the armed forces were coded as completing grade 12. For persons who completed more than 4 years of college, or who attended professional (e.g., law, medical, dental) school after completing 4 years of college, the interviewer was to mark the total number of school years the person attended college and graduate or professional school, up to a maximum of "6+" years of college.

The Manual specified a wide range of training and educational activities which should not count as "regular schooling" when reporting highest grade/year of schooling completed. This included the following: 1) education obtained at vocational schools, business schools or colleges, and other trade and specialized schools unless such schools are part of a regular school system; 2) training received by mail from "correspondence" schools, unless the correspondence course counted toward promotion in a regular school; 3) any kind of "on-the-job" training; 4) adult education classes, unless such schooling is being counted for credit in a regular school system and advances the person toward an elementary school certificate, high school diploma, or college degree; 5) any type of basic military training; and 6) training under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) or the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), unless such training was given for credit at a regular school.

The Manual also instructed interviewers on how to code years of schooling from "miscellaneous school systems," including foreign schools, ungraded schools, night schools, instruction by tutors, schools graded by levels of "readers," "normal" schools, and special schools for the handicapped. In each case, the interviewer was to "enter the equivalent grade in the regular American school system."


This variable is comparable over time.

For 1969 to 1981, information on years of schooling completed was given in intervals (e.g., 1-4 years completed). These intervalled data for 1969 to 1982, along with data on years of completed schooling from 1982 to 1996 which is recoded into comparable intervals, are given in HIGRADE2. For comparable data on years of completed schooling for the entire period from 1969 through 1996, analysts should use HIGHGRADE2 rather than HIGRADE1.

Beginning in 1997, data on schooling is included in EDUC, which reports post-high school educational attainment in terms of degrees attained rather than years of college completed. EDUCREC1 provides a bridge between EDUC and HIGRADE1 for the period (1982 forward) when years of completed schooling are recorded in single years. EDUCREC2 provides a bridge between the two ways of measuring educational attainment for 1969-2003, including the years (1969-1981) when years of completed schooling are reported in intervals (e.g., grades 9-11, 1-3 years of college) in HIGRADE2.


  • 1982-1996: Persons age 5+.


  • 1982-1996