College & Workforce Readiness

College-Going Rates for High School Graduates Higher Than Anticipated

By Caralee J. Adams — September 29, 2014 2 min read
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A new study finds 79 percent of high school graduates go to a two- or four-year college by age 20 and 88 percent enroll by age 26—a much higher rate than researchers previously thought.

Some graduates are realizing they need more education once they try to enter the workforce and then find their way back into the education pipeline, said Patte Barth, the director of the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association, which released the report, “The Path Least Taken: A Quest to Learn More About High School Graduates Who don’t Go on to College,” on Sept. 29.

Researchers analyzing the longitudinal data from the U.S. Department of Education found that the 12 percent of noncollege-goers were more likely to be male (57 percent), low-income (65 percent) and have parents who ended their schooling with a high school diploma or less (46 percent). Students’ racial or ethnic backgrounds and whether English was their home language were not factors in whether or not they went to college.

School districts should try to learn more about the “remarkably small” percentage of students who aren’t going to college to better serve them, according to the report. Two-thirds of noncollege enrollees began high school believing they would attend college, researchers discovered. Finances were cited most often as the reason students didn’t go, but others indicated they were undecided, wanted to go right into the workforce, or needed to support their families.

“We want school leaders to look at services to be sure they are providing enough counselors to help students make plans,” said Barth, of the Alexandria, Va.-based association. “Students who never go to college aren’t necessarily preparing for it. There is a mismatch between aspiration and preparation.”

Schools should embrace rigorous curriculum and supports for all students, the report says. It’s important for high schools to prepare students to be lifelong learners, regardless of whether or not they go on to college, said Barth. Those who go straight into the workforce can benefit from being exposed to challenging coursework.

The analysis showed links between what students studied in high school and their post-graduation paths. Researchers found, on average, noncollege enrollees took fewer and less rigorous academic courses than their college-going peers. Those who didn’t go to college also had lower grades and spent fewers hour on homework each week in high school.

Of those 12 percent who did not go to college by age 26, about one-quarter said they needed more education and still expected to go to college.

Looking more closely by region, high school graduates in the South were more likely not to college than those who lived elsewhere.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.