Empty school classroom

How do high school students who are suspended and expelled fare later in life when compared with other classmates? A new University of California, Irvine-led study highlights an important link between exclusionary school discipline and inequality in a wide range of young adult outcomes. The link is particularly pronounced among Black students who face higher rates of suspension and expulsion than their white classmates. The findings, published in Educational Researcher, provide the most comprehensive link between school discipline and young adult outcomes. 

“There's been a lot of attention on how receiving school discipline might shape the outcomes of students even after they have left school, but most of the high-quality administrative data with information on student discipline doesn't have information about how students are faring after they leave school,” says co-author Andrew Penner, sociology professor and director of UCI’s Center for Administrative Data Analysis (CADA). “Our team was able to link data from across a number of sources to provide a window into how students were doing in young adulthood. And what we show is that students who are disciplined in high school are not doing as well as their non-disciplined peers.”

The researchers combined state-level data from Oregon’s Department of Education, Court System, Department of Corrections, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Internal Revenue Service for the state’s 40,000 student cohort that began high school in 2007-08. This novel data linkage was made possible by partnerships facilitated by CADA.

School disciplinary records were compared with criminal justice activity, educational enrollment and attainment, employment and income records four-ten years later. 

“Providing high-quality descriptive evidence documenting the important link between school discipline and young adult outcomes was a surprisingly difficult task,” says co-author Miles Davison, sociology graduate student. “Research typically relies on student self-reports while administrative data rarely contains information about students’ later life outcomes. Our novel data allow us to provide the most comprehensive overview of the link between school discipline and young adult inequality and to condition based on a set of controls.”

When compared with students who were not suspended or expelled, high school students who experienced exclusionary discipline were:

  • More than twice as likely to be charged with a crime, convicted of a crime, and incarcerated by age 22
  • 11 percentage points more likely to have received SNAP benefits by age 26
  • 7 percentage points less likely to pursue higher education and 3 percentage points less likely to graduate from college by age 23
  • Earning $1,600 less at age 26
  • 5 percentage points more likely to be earning below the federal poverty line

For Black students, the link between school discipline and criminal justice contact is stronger than any other group. And across all measures, Black young adults who experience exclusionary discipline face the largest disparity, says co-author Emily Penner, education assistant professor.

“Roughly 30 percent of the gap between Black and white young adult criminal justice outcomes, SNAP participation, and bachelor’s degree receipt can be traced back to inequalities in school discipline,” she says.

“This is a really sobering piece of evidence highlighting the disproportionate and lasting consequences of school discipline for students and communities of color. We think that it’s very important to follow up on this by studying whether restorative interventions aimed at curtailing exclusionary discipline in school can also have lasting impacts on students' lives.”

Additional co-authors include Nikolas Pharris-Ciurej, statistician, Center for Administrative Records Research and Applications, U.S. Census Bureau; Sonya R. Porter, assistant center chief for research, Center for Administrative Records Research and Applications, U.S. Census Bureau; Evan K. Rose, Saieh Family Research Fellow, Becker Friedman Institute, University of Chicago; Yotam Shem-Tov, economics assistant professor, UCLA; and Paul Yoo, education graduate student, UCI.

Funding for this study was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development under award number R01HD094007, and a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship.

photo: iStock.com/diane39

connect with us


© UC Irvine School of Social Sciences - 3151 Social Sciences Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697-5100 - 949.824.2766