Fewer new high school grads attended college this fall

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Although the pandemic appears to have had little effect on the number of high school students graduating this spring, there was a 30% drop among those graduates who enrolled in community colleges this fall, with a staggering 37% fewer students from low-income high schools, according to preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The numbers are down across all higher education sectors, but the changes among new high school graduates going to community colleges are the largest in terms of percentage, especially among students from low-income high schools, the report shows. In fall 2019, there was an average 0.7% increase in the number of new high school graduates who then attended community college. Among low-income students, the rate in 2019 increased an average 2.3%.

Overall, despite a steady high school completion number, fewer high school graduates went to college immediately after high school this fall, dropping -21.7% compared to 2019 graduates, according to the annual report from the center. That is nearly eight times the pre-pandemic rate of -2.8%, it said.

“Based on preliminary data, there is little evidence that Covid-19 impacted high school graduation,” Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, said in a release. “However, the pandemic impacted high school graduates in their immediate college enrollment, and those from high-poverty, low-income and urban high schools have been hit the hardest. The enrollment gaps appear to be widening because of Covid-19.”

The report uses preliminary data submitted by high schools and colleges as of September 18. The immediate enrollment rates are estimated for graduates from more than 2,300 high schools with differing income, minority and urbanicity characteristics.

Public college enrollment among graduates of low-income high schools declined at disproportionately higher rates, revealing impediments to college access during the pandemic, the center said.

For example:

  • There is a -29.2% drop in college enrollment among graduates of low-income high schools versus -16.9% at higher-income high schools
  • -26.4% for high-minority versus -18.0% for low-minority high schools
  • -32.6% for high-poverty versus -16.4% for low-poverty high schools
  • -25.1% for urban high schools versus -19.8% for suburban and -18.1% for rural high schools.

The immediate postsecondary education enrollment rate decreased to 27.7% from 35.3% last fall, a decline ten times steeper than last fall’s drop (from 35.9% in 2018 to 35.3% in 2019), the center said.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.