New BLS Data Show College Enrollment Rates of Recent High School Grads Have Been Dropping Since 2009

In this recent post, I pointed out that after increasing for decades, college enrollment rates have dropped since 2012. The data in that post are college/university enrollment rates for people age 20-24—I used those ages because they are very easy to get from the BLS site.

This morning, BLS released their annual report on college enrollment and work activity of recent high school grads.  The figure shows college enrollment of recent high school graduates (specifically, it’s the college enrollment rate in October 2013 of people age 16-24 who graduated from high school earlier the same year).  The data are volatile year to year, but they show that college enrollment of brand new high school graduates has been dropping since 2009.  This is a worrisome trend, particularly to the extent that it is due to students being unable to enter college because the lack of decent work in the weak recovery meant they could not put themselves through school or because their parents were unable to help them pay for school due to their own income or wealth losses during the Great Recession and its aftermath.  Falling college enrollment indicates that upward mobility may become more difficult for working class and disadvantaged high school graduates.

In a couple weeks, we will release our annual “Class of …” report, which will detail the labor market prospects of new high school and college graduates. (Here is last year’s report.) In this report, we investigate the drop in enrollment, including the fact that dropping enrollment rates at a time when employment is not increasing very strongly means that a larger share of young people are “disconnected”—i.e. not enrolled and not employed. This represents an enormous loss of opportunities for this cohort that will have long-term scarring effects on their careers.

October enrollment