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College admission may get easier as ranks of high school graduates drop

Santa Monica College

High school graduates will face less competition for college admission in the next decade due to a demographic decline in their ranks, according to a report on education enrollment trends released Wednesday.

At the same time, Latinos and Asian Americans will constitute larger shares of high school populations and the numbers of white and black students will drop.

“Over the last two decades, colleges and universities have been able to count on an annually growing number of students graduating from the nation’s high schools. But it appears that period of abundance will soon be history,” said the study, Knocking at the College Door, issued by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

Postsecondary campuses will have to recruit more heavily, possibly reaching beyond typical geographic territories and turning to older adults and other nontraditional populations, the report said.

The number of high school graduates increased nationally for a decade, peaking at 3.4 million in 2010-11, but then lower birth rates and less immigration contributed to a decline. Estimates show 3.21 million graduates are expected in 2013-2014, according to the report. Then it projects small ups and downs until 2023-24, when high school graduates will reach 3.4 million again.

The effect will be uneven across the country. The Northeast and Midwest will experience the largest declines, with smaller ones in the West and some growth in the South, particularly in Texas and Georgia, the study found.

In California, the ranks of high school graduates peaked two years ago at 430,292 and is expected to be 408,467 in 2012-13. Possibly easing enrollment pressures at state colleges and universities, a general decline will follow to a low of 384,600 projected in 2019-2020. The state will then see some modest growth for the next five years but the ranks of its new high school graduates will remain well below the peak.

The study anticipates that 45% of nation’s public high school students will be non-white by 2019-20, compared to 38% in 2009. In that period, the annual numbers of Latino graduates from public high schools will rise 41% and Asian-Pacific Islanders will be up 30% while whites decline 12% and blacks 9%, according to the study.

Colleges and universities should review their recruitment, financial aid and student support policies for a more ethnically diverse future, the report suggested. Higher education must “address the fact that systems, policies and practices designed for an earlier, more racially/ethnically homogenous era will not suffice.”

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-- Larry Gordon

Photo: Students wait in line for financial aid at Santa Monica College campus in September. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

 
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