Higher Ed Enrollment Dips, Even as College Degrees Remain Key to Employment

A postsecondary degree is more important than ever to future employment, but fewer high school graduates are headed to college, according to separate reports released in recent days.

On one hand, Americans with a college degree are faring better at finding full-time jobs in the years since the 2008 financial recession, found Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

The trend has been especially evident among African American and Hispanic adults, Inside Higher Ed reports:

The effect a college degree has on underemployment rates is most evident among African-American and Hispanic adults. More than 33 percent of African-American adults who dropped out of high school were underemployed in 2015, compared to 17 percent of white high school dropouts.

As the level of education increases, the researchers found, the differences in underemployment rates begin to converge.

Of those who graduated high school, more than 21 percent of African-American adults were underemployed, compared to 14 percent of white high school graduates. The rate for African-Americans drops to 14.6 percent when they have an associate degree, then to 9.7 percent for African-American adults with a bachelor’s degree. White bachelor’s degree holders had an underemployment rate of 5.2 percent, and Hispanic adults had a rate of 8.4.

The link between education level and job stability comes despite a troubling trend found by the American Council on Education, which crunched data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The Wall Street Journal reports that the industry group’s analysis found that just under 66% of recent high school grads were enrolled in two- or four-year college programs in 2013, down from 68.6% in 2008.

Among low-income graduates, just 45.5% were enrolled in college in 2013, compared with 55.9% in 2008.

The ACE report’s authors stopped short of offering definitive reasons for why low-income college enrollment has fallen so sharply. They suggested a host of factors could be at play, including that poorer students believe college is “out of reach financially” or that the economic value of a degree is not worth it.

“Regardless of why this is happening, it is a move in the wrong direction,” wrote the authors, Terry Hartle, ACE’s senior vice president, and Christopher Nellum, a senior policy research analyst, on Higher Education Today. “It is a troubling trend that must be carefully analyzed, aggressively addressed, and ultimately reversed.”

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