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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2017

College Enrollment

A college education generally enhances a person's employment prospects and increases his or her earning potential.117 One measure of the accessibility and perceived value of a college education by high school completers is the percentage of these students who enroll in college in the fall immediately after high school.120 Research shows that high school completers who delay enrollment in postsecondary education are less likely to persist in their education and attain a postsecondary credential.121

Indicator ED6: Percentage of high school completers who were enrolled in college the October immediately after completing high school by race and Hispanic origin, 1980–2015
Indicator ED6: Percentage of high school completers who were enrolled in college the October immediately after completing high school by race and Hispanic origin, 1980–2015

NOTE: Enrollment in college as of October of each year for individuals ages 16–24 who had completed high school earlier in the calendar year. High school completion includes GED recipients. Data have been revised since previous publication in America's Children. Due to some short-term data fluctuations associated with small sample sizes, moving averages are used to produce more stable estimates for the race and Hispanic origin data. A 3-year moving average is the weighted average of the estimates for the year prior to the reported year, the reported year, and the following year. For 2015, a 2-year moving average is used, reflecting an average of the 2014 and 2015 estimates. Beginning in 2003, those in a given racial category represent those reporting only that race. Data from 2003 onward are not directly comparable with data from earlier years. Data on race and Hispanic origin are collected separately and combined for reporting according to the 1997 U.S. Office of Management and Budget Standards for Data on Race and Ethnicity. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, School Enrollment Supplement.

  • In 2015, about 69 percent of high school completers enrolled in a 2-year or 4-year college in the fall immediately after graduating from high school. Between 1980 and 2015, the immediate college enrollment rate increased 20 percentage points, from 49 percent to 69 percent.
  • In 1980, some 52 percent of White, non-Hispanic high school completers immediately enrolled in college; this rate increased to 70 percent in 2015.122 The immediate college enrollment rate for Black, non-Hispanic high school completers increased from 44 percent in 1980 to 63 percent in 2015. The rate for Hispanic high school completers also increased, from 50 percent in 1980 to 67 percent in 2015.
  • In 2015, the immediate college enrollment rates for White, non-Hispanic high school completers (70 percent); Black, non-Hispanic high school completers (63 percent); and Hispanic high school completers (67 percent) were not statistically different, due in part to large standard errors for Black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic high school completers. In 1980, the immediate college enrollment rate was higher for White, non-Hispanic high school completers (52 percent) than for their Black, non-Hispanic peers (44 percent), while neither group's rate was statistically different from that of their Hispanic peers (50 percent).
  • In 2015, the immediate college enrollment rate for female high school completers (73 percent) was higher than that of their male peers (66 percent). From 1980 to 2015, the immediate enrollment rate for male high school completers increased from 47 percent to 66 percent, and the rate for female high school completers increased from 52 percent to 73 percent.
  • The immediate college enrollment rate for high-income high school completers (83 percent) was higher than the rate for middle-income (62 percent) and low-income (69 percent) high school completers in 2015.123

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117 Kena, G., Hussar, W., deBrey, C., Musu-Gillette, L., Wang, X., Zhang, J., & Dunlop Velez, E. (2016). The condition of education 2016 (NCES Publication No. 2016-144). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2016144

120 "High school completer" refers to those who completed 12 years of school for survey years 1980–1991 and to those who earned a high school diploma or equivalent (e.g., a GED certificate) for all years since 1992.

121 Radford, A. W., Berkner, L., Wheeless, S. C., & Shepherd, B. (2010). Persistence and attainment of 2003–04 beginning postsecondary students: After 6 years (NCES Publication No. 2011-151). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011151.pdf

122 Due to some short-term data fluctuations associated with small sample sizes, estimates for the race and Hispanic origin data were calculated based on 3-year moving averages, except in 2015, when estimates were calculated based on 2-year moving averages.

123 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.