The 8th edition of Knocking at the College Door: Projections of High School Graduates, released by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), indicates that the population of U.S. high school graduates is entering a period of modest decline after nearly two decades of sustained growth. In addition, the pool of future college students is rapidly growing more racially and ethnically diverse, putting pressure on policymakers and practitioners to address educational attainment gaps among many traditionally underrepresented populations.
"These two trends will define the 'new normal' for our colleges and universities—and will require those of us working in higher education to change the way we do business," says David Longanecker, president of WICHE, which published Knocking at the College Door, with support from ACT and the College Board. "Institutions will no longer be able to rely on growth in the number of traditional-aged students to boost funding. At the same time, the changing demographics of our high school graduating classes will mean greater demand for a college education from students we traditionally have not served well. Higher education must commit to finding innovative, cost-effective ways to prepare those students to succeed in our 21st century global economy."
Increasing the share of young people who enroll in and complete a postsecondary degree is critical for the United States, if our workforce is to remain competitive. For the higher education community that recruits, enrolls, and graduates those young people, understanding high school graduation trends is more important than ever. Here are some of Knocking's highlights.
High School Graduates: Past the Peak
According to Knocking's projections, national high school graduate numbers peaked at 3.4 million in 2010-11 after 15 years of growth, then began a decline that will stabilize in 2013-14 at 3.2-3.3 million graduates. The next period of significant growth is projected to begin in 2020-21.
Changes in the number of high school graduates will vary considerably across the United States from 2008-09 through 2019-20. Many states in the South and West are projected to experience at least some growth, while numerous states across the Midwest and Northeast can expect declines. While growth states may struggle to find the resources and capacity to serve their students, states with dwindling numbers may face a very different problem: sustaining the infrastructure they've built up over many years. Our projections find that states can expect the following.
Dwindling production (losses of 15 percent or more): The District of Columbia, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Slowing production (losses of between 5 and 15 percent): Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Manageable decline (losses of less than 5 percent): Arizona, Delaware, Indiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oregon, and West Virginia.
Manageable growth (increases of less than 5 percent): Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee,
Virginia, and Washington.
Accelerated expansion (increases of between 5 and 15 percent): Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.
Swift expansion (increases greater than 15 percent): Colorado, Texas, and Utah.
Race/Ethnicity: Diversity Ramps Up
Our high school graduating classes are rapidly becoming more diverse. By 2019-20 45 percent of the nation's public high school graduates are projected to be non-White, up by more than 7 percent over the class of 2009. This trend is driven by the rapid increase in the number of Hispanics completing high school, corresponding to a nearly equivalent decline in the number of White non-Hispanics: between 2008-09 and 2019-20, the number of White public high school grads will drop by 228,000, while Hispanic graduates will increase by 197,000. At the same time, the number of Asians/Pacific Islanders graduating from high school is projected to rise rapidly (by 49,000), offsetting Black non-Hispanic numbers, which are expected to drop (by 41,000).
These national trends are reflected in almost every state, though the pace at which minority populations are gaining (or losing) shares varies. In most states the number of high school graduates of Hispanic descent is projected to increase, as is the number of Asian/Pacific Islander grads. Only a handful of states can expect to see growth in the number of White non-Hispanic graduates. And about half the states will see decreases among Black non-Hispanic graduates. Also by 2019-20, high school graduating classes in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, and Nevada are projected to reach "majority-minority" status (graduating more minorities than Whites), joining California, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas.
"Knocking at the College Door is a valuable resource for projecting the future landscape of postsecondary education," says Jon Whitmore, CEO of ACT. "In light of the changing student demographics projected by this report, it is critical that our K-12 and postsecondary education systems work collaboratively to address gaps in education preparation and attainment."
How to best educate and prepare our changing student body presents a major challenge to our K-12 educational system and our postsecondary institutions, as well as to our nation.
"The projections detailed in Knocking at the College Door underscore the critical importance of ensuring that all of our nation's students—particularly traditionally underserved minority students—graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge to succeed in college," says David Coleman, president of the College Board. "Together with our partners in K-12 and higher education, we are committed to delivering opportunities for all students to experience the kind of rigorous, meaningful curricula that lay a foundation for postsecondary academic success."
Knocking at the College Door and individual state profiles are posted at http://www.wiche.edu/knocking>