High School Substance Use as a Predictor of College Attendance, Completion, and Dropout: A National Multicohort Longitudinal Study

National data from Monitoring the Future were used to examine patterns and predictors of college attendance. Samples of American 12th-grade students from 1977 to 2003 were followed for 7 years (modal ages 18-25; N = 10,020). College attendance and graduation patterns varied considerably over historical time and based on family background. Substance use during high school predicted a greater likelihood of never attending (for cigarettes, illegal drugs), of graduating from a 2-year rather than a 4-year school (for cigarettes), and of dropping out versus graduating from a 4-year school (for cigarettes, marijuana, and other illegal drugs). High school binge drinking predicted lower college dropout, but only in models also controlling for cigarette, marijuana, and other illicit drug use. This study provides a needed overview of adolescent predictors of patterns of college attendance among American young adults over the past three decades.