Enrollment in America’s institutions of higher education has been an ongoing point-of-concern for a number of years. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent headcount decreases have only heightened the stress related to the future of enrollment in colleges and universities. The National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) estimates that total postsecondary enrollment fell by almost 938K students (-5.1%) nationally from fall 2019 to fall 2021. Two-year public colleges have been hit the hardest, collectively seeing more than 706K fewer students (-13.2%) enrolled in fall 2021 when compared to fall 2019. By comparison, public four-year universities were down 251K students (-3.8%) from fall 2020 to fall 2021.
While official fall 2022 semester enrollments are still being processed, we wanted to kick-off a blog series that will carry through the rest of this semester as we examine student enrollments from a variety of angles. In this blog post, we will take a look at the projections for high school graduates found in the most recent version of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s (WICHE) Knocking at the College Door report.
Viewed by many as the de facto source for K-12 enrollment and high school graduation projections, WICHE’s 10th edition of the Knocking at the College Door report provided state-by-state annual predictions through the 2037 academic year. Why 2037? WICHE’s report is updated every 4 years, with the last report published in late 2020. The last full year of available data prior to the 2020 publication was AY2019, and the projections observe a typical 18-year student life-cycle from birth to high school graduation. WICHE’s high school graduate predictions incorporate historical data for public and private school enrollments, high school graduates, and birth-rate data in the United States.
General Findings in WICHE Report
NOTES: The location of state boxes is loosely associated with geographic location in the United States. This grid is meant to serve as an organizational structure only, as opposed to an accurate map. Hovering over each state will show the year-over-year projected change from 2019 vs 2037 for that state. Any annual percentage that is an increase from that state’s 2019 high school graduation levels will be shaded in blue above the horizontal “0%” line, and any percentage that is a decrease will be shaded in red below the horizontal “0%” line.
The high school graduate pipeline is one of the most crucial data points to consider as policymakers, higher education leaders, economic developers, etc. make plans for the future. Based on the WICHE projections, the class of 2026 will likely serve as the beginning of a long-term decline in high school graduates, as the “birth dearth” that started during the Great Recession in 2008 will start to impact the number of HS graduates in the US. Leading indicators such as birth rates, elementary school enrollment trends, dual credit, student migration patterns, and other variables will be examined in the coming blog posts as we seek a deeper understanding of the potential effects of these indicators on future enrollments in higher education institutions.