Determinants of Social Inequalities and Consequences of Higher Education Dropout and Change of Study Programme

Students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds have a higher risk of changing their study programme and dropping out of tertiary education. Since student dropout is associated with cost for the individual as well as for society as a whole and  and since so far only a few theory-based empirical studies are available, the BUKSS project of INCHER-Kassel aims at answering the following questions:

  •  What causes social disparities in change of study programme and dropout?
  • How does the change of study programme affect the further course of studies?
  • What are the labor market consequences of the change of study programme or the final dropout?

First, the project aims to identify those determinants of social inequalities in dropout and the change of study programme of study that can be changed by higher education practitioners. The second aim is to investigate the consequences of tertiary education dropout or change of study programme of study on labor market outcomes. This will allow the development of intervention measures within and outside institutions of higher education.


Using the data of the starting cohort 5 of the German National Educational Panel (NEPS) the extent of social disparities of dropout and change of study programme will be estimated. The relative explanatory power of different theoretical approaches for socially different dropout risks - such as Tinto's integration model, Bourdieu's theory of social reproduction and the rational choice theory – will be investigated in multivariate regression models. The study also examines if and how the change of study programme can lead to a successful completion of studies or on the contrary increase the risk of a definitive dropout. Subsequently, long-term consequences of the change of study programme and dropout for labor market success will be analyzed retrospectively with data from the starting cohort 6 of the NEPS.


Matching procedures will be used to examine the success on the labor market for former dropouts and students who changed their study programme. The educational returns of the respective groups will be compared with those of comparable persons without tertiary education experience.