The number of high school graduates in the U.S. has rapidly grown in past years, a reliable truth which has led to many higher education institutions relying on the funding that an increasing number of students provide.
According to the 8th edition of Knocking at the College Door: Projections of High School Graduates, published by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), however, the United States is about to see a decline in the number of high school graduates.
“The main reason [for the decline] is that overall we have reached the end of the baby boom echo,” study author Brian T. Prescott, Ph.D., Director of Policy Research and Policy Analysis and Research at WICHE, told VOXXI. “In particular, that led to the number of white non-Hispanics cratering. Their numbers are so large that even a relatively small percentage decline amounts to many students.”
Other factors which influence the new trend include unequal graduation rates which factor into how many students graduate overall, and a shift in immigration patterns.
Prescott said a Pew Hispanic Center study suggests the United States likely saw zero net migration from Mexico between 2005 and 2010, which is a stark difference from recent decades.
Decreasing graduation numbers were not the only important results of the mentioned research. The WICHE publication also noted that while graduation numbers were decreasing, the diversity of high school graduates was increasing.
The steady shift in graduates from majority non-Hispanic whites to highly diverse senior classes indicates a need for education policy makers to focus on eliminating education gaps, said a WICHE press release.
If those education gaps are not addressed, Prescott told VOXXI, the health of the nation could be at stake.
“I think the real issue is how fit our economy and our democracy will be if we continue to see large gaps in educational attainment at a time when the labor market is demanding more post-secondary certificates and degrees,” he said.
“There are some signs of progress in terms of more students from underrepresented backgrounds achieving higher levels of education, but substantial gaps remain and, combined with the rapidly escalating diversity of our population, we are at risk of overall educational attainment rates declining if improvements are not made quickly.”
Prescott explained that Hispanics, who make up one of the fastest growing minorities along with Asians/Pacific Islanders, may be steadily adding to the high school student pool; however, if nothing is done to address the graduation gap among Hispanic students, the graduation rate will still decline despite more students being added to high school classes.
The lack of high school graduates will eventually impact college enrollment, which, despite the topic of the study, is WICHE’s actual primary focus.
“Although our report is on high school graduates, WICHE’s mission is actually concerned with post-secondary education,” said Prescott.
“From that perspective, we as a society need to understand that our own success is inextricably tied up with the success of our neighbors who are increasingly diverse. We need clarity and focus on how critical it is to have a capable workforce to compete in the global economy, and that the competencies and skills (and certificates and degrees) required for that are the same for everyone.”
Prescott adds students need to be ready for college or the workforce when they complete high school, and the United States can then address gaps in remediation. The U.S. also needs to understand how differences in access to the financial resources needed to pay for college affects the ability to prepare the workforce and informed citizens for the future, and allocate resources accordingly.