Students’ behavioural responses to a fallback option – Evidence from introducing interim degrees in German schools

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This paper examines the outcome of a policy-change in Germany which was designed to ensure students who dropped out at a late stage still had an interim qualification. It finds the reform reduced the number who downgraded to lower-level educational tracks and also increased the number successfully completing higher-level tracks.

The research uses data collected in 2010 from the National Educational Panel Study and focused on a group of 1460 adults who went to school in one of the 11 West German states. They were born between 1944 and 1982, and some were educated before the reform and some after. All had been on a higher track programme during part of their school careers.

The study found that students were less likely to switch between schools and tracks after the reform was implemented. But surprisingly, those on the higher track were also more likely successfully to finish high school after the reforms. The researchers conclude that the reform had an effect on students’ motivation, reducing the perceived risks of choosing to stay longer in the higher track, and allowing more to succeed there.

The reform might not work elsewhere, they say, but the results are important because they show rewarding milestones along the way in an educational career can change students’ behaviour and improve their outcomes.