October 29, 2009

College Enrollment Hits All-Time High, Fueled by Community College Surge

V. College Enrollment by Race and Ethnicity

White youths attained several educational milestones in 2008 (Figure 4).9Nearly 41% of white 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in college in 2008, an all-time high. This is partly accounted for by the relatively high levels of high school completion attained by white 18- to 24-year-olds in 2008. Nearly 86% of white youths completed high school (by either receiving a high school diploma or high school equivalency) in 2008, an all-time high. There were fewer white high school dropouts than ever before, and the white high school dropout rate reached an all-time low in 2008. The absolute number of white 18- to 24-year-olds who were not enrolled and had not completed high school fell below 2 million for the first time. The white high school dropout rate also fell under 9% for the first time in 2008.

About 26% of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in college in 2008 (Figure 5). This level did not surpass the 2007 young Hispanic college enrollment rate and trailed the white young college enrollment rate by nearly 15 percentage points. However, more Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds had completed high school (70%) than ever before. And the Hispanic high school dropout rate among 18- to 24-year-olds continued its downward march in 2008. In 2008, 22% of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds were high school dropouts, the lowest rate on record.10

Black college enrollment among 18- to 24-year-olds in 2008 (32%) did not surpass the 2007 level (33%) (Figure 6). The high school completion rate of 18- to 24-year-old blacks in 2008 was lower than 2007, and the black high school dropout rate for 18- to 24-year-olds in 2008 was higher than in 2007.

  1. In this report, “white” refers to any person reporting white racial identity regardless of his or her Hispanic origin. The longest running Census Bureau historical time series on white college enrollment includes Hispanics and non-Hispanics. It should also be noted that the historical series on the “white alone” population has a break in 2003. Beginning in 2003, respondents in the Current Population Survey could identify more than one race. The “white alone” category from 2003 onward refers to respondents of only white racial identity. Hence, the figures for “white alone” persons before 2003 may not be entirely comparable to figures for 2003 and thereafter.
  2. The U.S. Department of Education, on the basis of the same Census Bureau data utilized in this report, tabulates Hispanic high school dropout rates for 16- to 24-year-olds (NCES, 2009b). It finds that the Hispanic high school dropout rate has been trending downward since 1990.