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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Non-Standard Education Trajectories and Education Inequality: Do They Increase Equality? Evidence from Socialist Central and Eastern Europe


Sociological literature offers two rather distinct interpretations of the potential role of non-standard educational careers on the overall level of education inequality. On the one hand, some scholars believe that non-standard careers promote equality because they offer a second chance to those students who dropped out earlier Because drop-outs are heavily concentrated in the lower classes and minorities, disadvantaged students should be the primary beneficiaries of second chance education. On the other hand, other sociologists believe that entry into non-standard careers is as much contingent upon family resources as other educational transitions. Hence, non-standard careers are claimed to reinforce inequality, rather than diminish it.

This paper shows that non-standard education trajectories – represented by a non- standard sequence of educational transitions – were indeed stratified less on socioeconomic background variables than standard educational careers are. Nonetheless, the non-standard path was apparently so narrow that the students who progressed through the system following the standard path wouldn't have had a higher secondary education graduation and tertiary education entry rate had they opted for the non-standard path instead. Hence, the non-standard trajectory wasn't a rational choice for students concerned about their graduation prospects.

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