Monday, March 29, 2010

How has the college enrollment rate immediately following high school graduation varied over time?

The rate of college enrollment immediately after high school completion increased from 49 percent in 1972 to 67 percent by 1997, but has since fluctuated between 62 and 69 percent.

The immediate college enrollment rate is defined as the percentage of all high school completer 1 ages 16–24 who enroll in college (2- or 4-year) in the fall immediately after high school. In most years between 1972 and 1980, this rate was approximately 50 percent. It subsequently increased to 67 percent by 1997 and then decreased to 62 percent by 2001. Since 2002, the rate has fluctuated between 64 and 69 percent.

Differences were evident in the immediate college enrollment rate among racial/ethnic groups between 1972 and 2006. Although the enrollment rates increased overall during this period for both Whites and Blacks, the gap between the two has widened and narrowed at various times, resulting in no overall change in the gap. In 2006, the enrollment rate for Black high school completers was 13 percentage points lower than for their White counterparts (55 vs. 69 percent). For Hispanics, the immediate college enrollment rate has fluctuated over time, but increased overall between 1972 and 2006. Nonetheless, the gap between Hispanics and Whites has widened over this period. In 2006, the immediate college enrollment rate was 58 percent for Hispanics, compared with 69 percent for Whites.

From 1972 through 2006, the immediate enrollment rate of high school completers increased faster for females than for males. Much of the growth in the overall rate for females was due to increases in the rate of attending 4-year institutions.

Differences in immediate enrollment rates by family income and parents’ education have persisted. Despite an overall narrowing of the gap between students from low-income families and their peers from high-income families, the immediate college enrollment rate was higher for students from high-income families in each year between 1972 and 2006.2 Likewise, compared with completers whose parents had a bachelor’s degree or higher, those whose parents had less education had lower rates of immediate college enrollment in each year between 19923 and 2006.

1 Refers to those who completed 12 years of school for survey years 1972–1991 and to those who earned a high school diploma or equivalent certificate such as a General Educational Development (GED) certificate for all years since 1992.

2 Low income refers to the bottom 20 percent of all family incomes, high income refers to the top 20 percent of all family incomes, and middle income refers to the 60 percent in between.

3The earliest year with comparable data available for parents’ educational attainment is 1992.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2008). The Condition of Education 2008 (NCES 2008-031), Indicator 24.

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