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America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016

College Enrollment

A college education generally enhances a person's employment prospects and increases his or her earning potential.66 The percentage of high school completers who enroll in college in the fall immediately after high school is one measure of the accessibility and perceived value of a college education by high school completers.67 Research shows that high school completers who delay enrollment in postsecondary education are less likely to persist in their education and to attain a postsecondary credential.68

Figure 25: Percentage of high school completers who were enrolled in college the October immediately after completing high school by race and Hispanic origin, 1980–2014
Percentage of high school completers who were enrolled in college the October immediately after completing high school by race and Hispanic origin, 1980–2014

NOTE: Enrollment in college, as of October of each year, is for individuals ages 16–24 who completed high school during the preceding 12 months. High school completion includes General Educational Development (GED) certificate 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 racial and ethnic groups. 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 2014, a 2-year moving average is used, reflecting an average of the 2013 and 2014 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 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 2014, 68 percent of high school completers enrolled in a 2-year or 4-year college in the fall immediately after high school. Between 1980 and 2014, the rate of immediate college enrollment trended upward nearly 20 percentage points, from 49 percent to 68 percent.
  • In 1980, some 52 percent of White, non-Hispanic high school completers immediately enrolled in college; this rate increased to 68 percent in 2014.69
  • The immediate college enrollment rate for Black, non-Hispanic high school completers increased from 44 percent in 1980 to 63 percent in 2014.
  • The immediate college enrollment rate for Hispanic high school completers also increased, from 50 percent in 1980 to 62 percent in 2014.
  • In 2014, the immediate college enrollment rates for White, non-Hispanic high school completers (68 percent); Black, non-Hispanic high school completers (63 percent); and Hispanic high school completers were not statistically different (62 percent), 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).

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66 Kena, G., Hussar, W., deBrey, C., Musu-Gillette, L., Wang, X., Zhang, J., . . . & Dunlop Velez, E. (2015). The Condition of Education 2016 (NCES Publication No. 2016-144). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics website.

67 "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.

68 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). Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011151.pdf

69 Due to some short-term data fluctuations associated with small sample sizes, estimates for the racial/ ethnic groups were calculated based on 3-year moving averages, except in 2014, when estimates were calculated based on 2-year moving averages.