Friday, September 27, 2019

Steady College Enrollment Rate among Recent High School Grads

For the last 15 years, the overall share of recent high school graduates that are attending college by October of the year they graduated has been between 66 percent and 70 percent. While it might make logical sense to think that enrollment rates of recent high school graduates would depend to some degree on the business cycle, in the last couple of decades the decision to attend college immediately after high school doesn’t appear to change much in economic expansions versus recessions. However, the labor market experiences of recent high school graduates vary considerably with the strength or weakness of the economy, with young people graduating from high school during recessions facing much higher unemployment rates and more difficulty finding work, regardless of college enrollment.

We’re now in the longest economic expansion on record in the United States. Young people, however, do not appear to be postponing their college education to join in the job market bonanza. In October 2018, 69 percent of recent high school graduates were enrolled in college. These numbers come from the Current Population Survey produced by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is the same survey that establishes the unemployment rates and labor force participation rates for the nation, states, and local areas.

Between January and October 2018, 3.2 million young people in the United States graduated from high school. Another 527,000 young people dropped out of high school between October 2017 and October 2018. Of those who graduated, 2.2 million (69%) enrolled in college by October 2018, with 2.0 million enrolling full time. Most enrolled in four-year colleges (1.4 million).

Increases in college enrollment rates have slowed in the last couple of decades. Back in 1960, fewer than half (45%) of recent high school graduates enrolled in college by the fall following graduation. By 1970, just over half of recent graduates were enrolled. The numbers dipped back below the 50 percent mark through the early 1970s, but by the early 1980s the share rose above 50 percent and kept on rising. In 1990, the share of recent high school grads enrolled in college reached 60 percent. It’s stayed between 60 percent and 70 percent ever since. In the 1990s, college enrollment averaged 63 percent; that rose to 66 percent in the 2000s, and enrollment has averaged 68 percent of recent graduates so far this decade. It appears the era of rapidly rising college enrollment among recent high school graduates has reached an end.

Women tend to have slightly higher college enrollment than men, and that’s been the case since the 1990s. The gap has been widening, as college enrollment among women has increased more in the last decade than among men. Over the last decade, enrollment in the October after high school graduation averaged 64 percent among men and 72 percent among women. The prior decade it averaged 63 percent of men and 68 percent of women.
Read the full article, written by employment economist Jessica Nelson, here

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