Skip Navigation
small NCES header image

2012 Spotlight

A Closer Look at High School Students in the United States Over the Last 20 Years

Postsecondary Plans

Finally, we look at the postsecondary plans for high school students, including the rate at which high school graduates enroll in a 2-year or 4-year college within a year of completing high school, as well as the changing expectations for the attainment of a college degree.

The immediate college enrollment rate is defined as the percentage of high school completers of a given year who enroll in 2- or 4-year colleges in the fall immediately after completing high school. Between 1990 and 2010, the immediate college enrollment rate ranged from 60 to 70 percent (see indicator 34). This rate increased from 1990 to 1997 (60 to 67 percent), declined from 1997 to 2001 (to 62 percent), then increased from 2001 to 2009 (to 70 percent). The rate remained steady from 2009 to 2010.

In each year between 1990 and 2010, the immediate college enrollment rates of high school completers from low- and middle-income families were lower than those of high school completers from high-income families. Most recently, in 2010, the immediate college enrollment rate of high school completers from low-income families was 52 percent, 30 percentage points lower than the rate of high school completers from high-income families (82 percent). The immediate college enrollment rate of high school completers from middle-income families (67 percent) also trailed the rate of their peers from high-income families by 15 percentage points. In 1990, these gaps were 32 percentage points between high school completers from high-income and those from low-income families, and 22 percentage points between high school completers from high-income and those from middle-income families.

Between 1990 and 2010, immediate college enrollment rates increased for both males and females: the rate for males increased from 58 to 63 percent and that for females, from 62 to 74 percent. Overall, there was no measurable difference in the immediate college enrollment rates between males and females in 1990. By 2010, the immediate college enrollment rate was higher for females than for males. Thus, the enrollment pattern has shifted over time to higher enrollment rates for females than males.

The percentage of 12th-grade students who had definite plans to graduate from a 4-year college was higher in 2010 (60 percent) than in 1990 (48 percent) (see indicator 35). In 2010, the percentage of 12th-grade males with plans to graduate from a 4-year college was higher than the percentage in 1990 (53 vs. 46 percent); for female 12th-graders, the percentage with plans to graduate from college was also higher in 2010 than in 1990 (66 vs. 51 percent). In both years, higher percentages of female than male 12th-graders planned to graduate from college. This gap in expectations regarding college completion by sex was larger in 2010 than in 1990 (13 vs. 5 percentage points). The percentages of 12th-grade students who planned to graduate from a 4-year college were higher in 2010 than in 1990 at each level of parents’ educational attainment (46 vs. 32 percent for those whose parents attained high school completion or less, 57 vs. 47 percent for those whose parents attained some college, 66 vs. 58 percent for those whose parents attained a bachelor’s degree, and 78 vs. 72 percent for those whose parents attained a graduate or professional degree). In each year shown, higher percentages of 12th-graders whose parents had more education planned to graduate from college when compared with their peers whose parents had less education. For example, in 2010, some 78 percent of 12th-graders whose parents had a graduate or professional degree planned to graduate from college, compared with 46 percent of 12th-graders whose parents had completed a high school education or less. Also in that year, a higher percentage of 12th-graders whose parents had a bachelor’s degree (66 percent) planned to graduate from college than their peers whose parents had completed high school or less. However, the gaps in expectations regarding college completion among these groups of 12th-graders were smaller in 2010 than in 1990. In 2010, there was a 32 percentage point difference between those whose parents had completed high school or less versus those whose parents had a graduate or professional degree. In 1990, this difference was 40 percentage points. Similarly, in 1990 there was a 26 percentage point difference in expectations regarding college degree completion between those 12th-graders whose parents had a bachelor’s degree and those whose parents had completed high school or less. 

Would you like to help us improve our products and website by taking a short survey?

YES, I would like to take the survey

or

No Thanks

The survey consists of a few short questions and takes less than one minute to complete.
National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education