How Many High School Graduates Attend College and Why

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College Enrollment is on the Rise

Despite a lower number of college age high school graduates, (Ages 18 – 24) college enrollment number is expected to continue to break new records from fall 2010 through fall 2018. Just how many high school graduates attend college? College enrollment was a projected 19.6 million in fall 2009, higher than in any previous year. It appears that the number of high school graduates attending college is rising. What are some of the factors contributing to this rise in college enrollments?

  • More competitive job markets. Many employers are seeking college degree holders where they would have accepted a high school diploma before.
  • Increase in second- and third-generation college students. This increases the amount of guidance to go to college from family members, such as parents, who attended college.
  • A significant increase in the amount of degree programs. There are many more degree programs to choose from in colleges than there were in the past.
  • Increase in salary. The salaries of those with a college degree are continuing to out pace those with only a high school diploma.

History Repeats Itself

So, when we ask the question, “Just how many high school graduates attend college,” we can see there is a substantial increase in the amount of students graduating from high school and entering college. Also increasing are the demands for higher education. This is not unlike a series of transitions that occurred in the late 1800’s to early and mid 1900”s where the median education level of white males was an 8th grade education (Kroch and Sjoblom 1994). In fact, in 1920 studies show that only 20 percent of those between the ages of 25 and 29 years old had a high school education (Snyder et al. 1998). It wasn’t until after World War II that more young people started graduating from high school much less those that would attend college. Perhaps a few decades from now, a college education will be like having a high school education.

The Impact of a Recession

How has the recession affected the enrollment numbers of students from high school going to college? According to Richard Fry a senior research associate at Pew Research Center, college enrollment is up in October of 2009. (College Enrollment Hits All-Time High, Fueled by Community College Surge, Fry 2009) In fact, the number of high school graduates enrolling in college has increased by 3.4 million students from one year ago. This rise is considered to be typical for community colleges during a recession because community colleges are less expensive than four year colleges. This particular recession is a little different in that the enrollment numbers for traditional four year colleges has not decreased. This is considered to be due to the statistical numbers showing the higher salaries of those with a four year degree over those of a two year degree. It looks like colleges can be one of the few business that will benefit from recessions.

Other Sources:

US Dept. of Labor. - College Enrollment and Work Activity of 2009 High School Graduates -

National Center for Education Statistics -