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Dive Brief:

  • While nearly three-quarters of the high school class of 2023 aspired to attend college, a lesser share, two-thirds, actually expected to enroll, according to a new survey from nonprofit YouthTruth.
  • These gaps worsened for certain groups — 58% of American Indian, Alaska Native, or Indigenous students, for instance, wanted to pursue a college education, but only 44% said they think they’ll attend. 
  • YouthTruth’s survey also revealed fewer students said they expected to go to community college compared to findings four years ago. One-quarter of the high school class of 2019 had said they anticipated enrolling in a community college versus 20% of the 2023 class.

Dive Insight:

Enrollment issues have occupied the minds of many higher education leaders, particularly as the pool of traditional college students — high school graduates — dwindles in some regions.

The COVID-19 emergency exacerbated concerns over losing students, as undergraduate enrollment plummeted, particularly at community colleges, and is just now starting to see hints of recovery.

At the same time, enrollment officials fear the effects on some of the most marginalized students from a much-anticipated U.S. Supreme Court ruling that’s expected to curtail race-conscious admissions. That decision is expected around summertime.

While a decision against race-conscious practices would only impact a small slice of institutions in practical terms, as most accept a majority of applicants, college officials worry what sort of message the ruling would send to students in racial and ethnic minority groups. 

YouthTruth’s survey shows the extent of some of these gaps in admissions expectations — 68% of Native Hawiian or Pacific Islander students wanted to attend college, for instance, but only 58% actually expected to. And 73% of Hispanic or Latino students sought to enroll, but just 64% believed they would. 

The two racial groups with the smallest gaps were White students — with 74% saying they wanted to enroll in college, and only 67% saying they anticipated they would — and Asian or Asian American students, where 90% wanted to attend college and 85% said they expected to. 

Higher shares of Asian or Asian American and White students also anticipated attending four-year college, at 70% of Asian and Asian American students, and just over half of White students. That compared to only 34% of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students and 27% of American Indian, Alaska Native or Indigenous students who said they believed they would go to a four-year college.

Gender differences also emerged in the survey results. More women aspired to attend college than men, 83% compared to 68%. And 77% of women said they expected to actually enroll,  versus only 57% of men. 

Also, 72% of nonbinary or gender nonconforming students sought to attend college, while 66% expected to actually do so.