Changes in higher education enrollment can sound very bland or abstract. We’re talking large numbers, tens of millions of students, and thousands of campuses. But I can sum up recent data and research more concretely. Fewer American high school grads are going to college, and fewer still from poorer families. It’s peak higher education and increasing income inequality combined.
- Overall enrollment decline for high school grads: “Since 2008, the percentage of all high school graduates who immediately enroll in college has fallen from 69 percent to 66 percent in 2013.”
- It’s worse than it sounds, because high schools actually graduated more people: “During roughly the same period, the overall high school graduation rate increased from 75 percent to 81 percent, meaning that the pool of potential college students has increased.”
- On income: “the percentage of students from low-income families enrolling in higher education immediately after graduating from high school has declined by 10 percentage points since 2008, from 56 percent of graduates to just 46 percent.” We’ve been discussing graduation rates as problematic, but not just getting into college is becoming more rare.
- A major, maybe the major policy response, isn’t working: “The dramatic decline in enrollment among low-income students in two- and four-year colleges and universities occurred despite a massive increase in grant aid. Between the 2008-09 academic year and 2013-14, the total increased by roughly 50 percent, from $82 billion in 2008-09 to $123 billion in 2013-14.”
- The income gap is worse than it sounds: “While the percentage of low-income students in elementary and secondary schools is increasing, the percentage of low-income students who go on to college is falling.” Or “at the same time that low-income individuals are enrolling in college at lower rates, the majority of young adults in the pre-college education pipeline are from those same low-income communities…”
These trends connect with other, recent institutional trends. For example, campuses recruiting more international students, and public universities going after out-of-state students makes sense as the traditional-age population declines. This also makes more sense of the growing centrality of adult learners in American higher ed.
ACE offers this trend to watch:
The long-term implications of a society with a growing number of low-income students attending public primary and secondary schools but a shrinking presence of those low-income students in postsecondary education are ominous.
If you think not everyone should go to college, a growing proportion of high school grads, especially the poor folks, agree.