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New high school graduates to plateau


William Serrata (center), president of El Paso Community College in Texas, oultines his college's partnership efforts during the release of a new report Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Matthew Dembicki

The boom in high school students is about to level off, and a growing proportion of them will be Hispanics and Asians, according to a new report.

While the number of high school graduates increased 30 percent from 1995 to 2013, the rate is expected to hold steady over the next decade and then drop, according to a new study by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WIHCE). At the same time, there will likely be sharp drop among white high school graduates and a significant increase in the number of Hispanic, and to a lesser degree Asian students. The number of black students is expected to remain about the same.

Overall, the country will produce fewer high school graduates between 2013 and 2023, compared to the highest recorded number of graduates in 2013, according to the report. The rate will drop about 2.7 percent — 81,000 fewer students — in 2017. Minor increases are projected for the following few years, after which a drop is expected.

National, regional shifts

The changes are a result of decreasing birth rates and changes in demographics.

By 2030, the number of white public school graduates is expected to drop 14 percent compared to 2013, the report said. Even in 2024-26, when there is a projected increase nationally, there will be about 110,000 fewer white public school graduates than there were in 2013. That gap will increase to about 252,000 by 2032.

Meanwhile, the number of Hispanic high school graduates is projected to increase by 50 percent or more from 2014 to 2025. For Asians/Pacific Islander, the increase will likely be up to 30 percent between 2013 and early 2030s.

AACC Fast Facts The change in the number of graduates will vary considerably by region and state, the report said. The Northeast and Midwest will likely continue to show declines in number of graduates, while the South will see steady and significant increases. In fact, Southern states will generate almost 47 percent of the country’s high school graduates by 2025, compared to 43 in 2013 and one-third in early 2000s.

The report also includes data by states. California, which has been the highest producer of high school graduates, is expected to see a decrease, while Texas — which hold the No. 2 spot — is projected to see a 22 percent increase between 2011-12 and 2024-25.

Economic importance

The report, which WICHE releases every four years, is designed to help education institutions, states and other organizations develop policies and strategies to prepare for fewer new college students and more minority students at a time when demand for a skilled workforce continues to grow.

The data is especially of interest to colleges and universities, which largely depend on new enrollments of recent high school graduates. It is also important for workforce and economic development strategies. The report noted that higher education institutions should have plans to serve more nontraditional students, from minorities to older adults.

“It’s a matter of economic survival for our institutions and global competitiveness for our nation,” said WICHE President Joe Garcia, a former lieutenant governor of Colorado and former president of Pikes Peak Community College.

Working together

K-12 advocates laud the recent increases in high school graduation rates — especially among Hispanic and black students — but note that more needs to be done.

“This is no time to pat ourselves on the back,” said Patte Barth, director of the Center for Public Education, which is an initiative of the National School Boards Association. She emphasized there are still not enough skilled workers to fill available jobs.

Help with a heavy liftBarth and other panelists at the release of the WICHE report on Tuesday highlighted efforts to develop partnerships between K-12, community colleges and four-year institutions. William Serrata, president of El Paso Community College (EPCC) in Texas, outlined his college’s partnership with a local four-year university, as well as its participation in national efforts to help students focus on academic and career pathways, such as the Pathways Project led by the American Association of Community Colleges.

“The only pathway to the middle class is through higher education,” Serrata said, adding that community colleges have expanded their focus from just access to higher education to college success.

K-12 should also better connect students with potential careers, including explaining the skills needed for jobs and potential income, said Nicole Smith, a research professor and chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Such data is available, but it is often difficult for students and families to navigate, which is why improved high school counseling is key, she said.

Serrata emphasized the important of local collaborations, noting that most students chose a college that is within 50 miles of where they live. He noted close partnerships with local K-12 districts as well as the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). About 85 percent of high school graduates in El Paso enroll at EPCC or UTEP, he added.

Preparing students better for college work has also improved, Serrata said.

“It’s no longer a blame game. It’s how we get better together,” he said.

And the new president?

The panel also discussed what the new Trump administration may mean for higher education. Serrata said he hopes the president retains support for Pell grants, which are crucial to the students his college and other community colleges serve.

Smith said Trump’s campaign promise for infrastructure improvements and more manufacturing jobs could be a good thing for community colleges, which train students and workers for many jobs in those fields.

The WICHE report was supported by ACT and the College Board.