Educational pathways and dropout from higher education in Germany


  • Sophie Müller Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg
  • Thorsten Schneider Universität Leipzig



dropout, higher education, tertiary education, event history analysis, educational pathways, social origin


Extending access to higher education has led to a growing heterogeneity in the social origins and previous educational biographies of first-year students. They differ in their socialization, their preparedness for tertiary studies, and the salience of alternative options. How do these differences relate to social inequality in dropout from higher education? Drawing on theories and concepts of rational choice, differential learning environments, and selection, we argue that social origins and pre-tertiary educational pathways have at least an initial impact on dropout risks. We draw on retrospective life course data from the “Adult Education and Life-Long Learning” stage of the German National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) to use pre-tertiary pathways to reconstruct educational careers and perform an event history analysis on dropping out of higher education. Results suggest that these pathways substantially influence dropout rates in Germany. Students taking the direct pathway via the Gymnasium (i.e. the school type representing the highest school track) have significantly lower dropout rates than students with an upwardly mobile educational biography or students who obtained a vocational qualification before starting higher education. Whereas students from a higher social background are less prone to drop out than students from a lower social background at universities, social origins do not have any significant direct influence on dropout rates at universities of applied sciences and influence only the likelihood of entering these institutions.

Author Biographies

Sophie Müller, Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg

Thorsten Schneider, Universität Leipzig