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Immediate Transition to College
(Last Updated: January 2014)

Between 1990 and 2012, the overall immediate college enrollment rate increased from 60 to 66 percent. In 2012, the immediate enrollment rate was higher for Asian (84 percent) than for White (67 percent), Black (62 percent), and Hispanic (69 percent) high school completers. However, there were no measurable differences among the rates for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics.

Of the 3.2 million high school completers in 2012, some 2.1 million, or 66 percent, enrolled in college the following fall. This rate, known as the immediate college enrollment rate, is defined as the annual percentage of high school completers (including GED recipients) who enroll in 2- or 4-year colleges in the fall immediately after completing high school. Between 1990 and 2012, the immediate college enrollment rate increased from 60 to 66 percent. However, the rate did not change measurably between 2011 and 2012.


Figure 1. Percentage of high school completers who were enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges by the October immediately following high school completion, by level of institution: 1990–2012

Figure 1. Percentage of high school completers who were enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges by the October immediately following high school completion, by level of institution: 1990–2012


NOTE: High school completers include GED recipients.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October Supplement, 1990–2012. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 302.10.


The immediate college enrollment rate of high school completers at 2-year colleges increased from 20 percent in 1990 to 29 percent in 2012. The rate fluctuated between 20 and 25 percent in the 1990s and then increased from 21 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in 2012. The immediate college enrollment rate at 4-year colleges in 2012 (37 percent) did not differ significantly from the corresponding rate in 1990 (40 percent), but the rate in 2012 (37 percent) was lower than the rates in 2011 and 2000 (42 percent each). In each year between 1990 and 2012, the immediate college enrollment rate at 4-year colleges was higher than that at 2-year colleges. For example, in 2012 the immediate college enrollment rate at 4-year colleges was 37 percent, compared with 29 percent at 2-year colleges


Figure 2. Percentage of high school completers who were enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges by the October immediately following high school completion, by sex: 1990–2012

Figure 2. Percentage of high school completers who were enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges by the October immediately following high school completion, by sex: 1990–2012


NOTE: High school completers include GED recipients.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October Supplement, 1990–2012. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 302.10.


The immediate college enrollment rate for males did not change measurably between 1990 (58 percent) and 2012 (61 percent), while the rate for females increased from 62 to 71 percent. In 2012, the immediate college enrollment rate was higher for females than for males (71 vs. 61 percent).


Figure 3. Percentage of high school completers who were enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges by the October immediately following high school completion, by family income: 1990–2012

Figure 3. Percentage of high school completers who were enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges by the October immediately following high school completion, by family income: 1990–2012


NOTE: Due to some short-term data fluctuations associated with small sample sizes, percentages for the income groups were calculated based on 3-year moving averages, except in 2012 when estimates were calculated based on 2-year moving averages. High school completers include GED recipients. Low income refers to the bottom 20 percent of all family incomes, high income refers to the top 20 percent of all family incomes, and middle income refers to the 60 percent in between.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October Supplement, 1990–2012. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 302.30.


In each year between 1990 and 2012, the immediate college enrollment rate for high school completers from high-income families was higher than the rates for their peers from low- and middle-income families.1 In 2012, the immediate college enrollment rate for high school completers from high-income families (81 percent) was 29 percentage points higher than the rate for those from low-income families (52 percent) and 16 percentage points higher than the rate for those from middle-income families (65 percent). In 1990, the high- to low-income gap was 30 percentage points (75 vs. 45 percent), while the high- to middle-income gap was 19 percentage points (75 vs. 56 percent).

The 29-percentage-point gap between the immediate college enrollment rates of high school completers from high- and low-income families in 2012 was not measurably different from the gap in 1990 (30 percentage points). The high- to low-income gap did not change measurably from 1990 to 1993 (ranging from 30 to 36 percentage points), but it narrowed from 1994 to 2012 (from 38 to 29 percentage points). The high- to middle-income gap in 2012 (16 percentage points) was not measurably different from the gap in 1990 (19 percentage points).


Figure 4. Percentage of high school completers who were enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges by the October immediately following high school completion, by race/ethnicity: 1990–2012

Figure 4. Percentage of high school completers who were enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges by the October immediately following high school completion, by race/ethnicity: 1990–2012


NOTE: Due to some short-term data fluctuations associated with small sample sizes, percentages for race/ethnicity groups were calculated based on 3-year moving averages, except in 2012 when estimates were calculated based on 2-year moving averages. High school completers include GED recipients. Separate data on Asian high school completers have been collected since 2003. From 2003 onward, White, Black, and Asian data exclude persons identifying themselves as two or more races. Prior to 2003, each respondent could select only a single race category, and the "Two or more races" category was not reported. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October Supplement, 1990–2012. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 302.20.


In 2012, there were no measurable differences among the immediate college enrollment rates for White (67 percent), Black (62 percent), and Hispanic (69 percent) high school completers.1 The immediate college enrollment rate for Asians (84 percent) was higher than the rates for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics in 2012 and in each year since 2003. Separate data on Asian high school completers have been collected since 2003. The immediate college enrollment rate for Whites was higher than that for Hispanics from 1994 through 2010. Additionally, the rate for Whites was higher than that for Blacks in every year since 1990, except in 2010 and 2012 when there were no measurable differences between their rates. Between 1990 and 2012, the immediate college enrollment rate increased for White (from 63 to 67 percent), Black (from 49 to 62 percent), and Hispanic (from 52 to 69 percent) high school completers.


1 Due to some short-term data fluctuations associated with small sample sizes, estimates for the income groups and racial/ethnic groups were calculated based on 3-year moving averages, except in 2012 when estimates were calculated based on 2-year moving averages.


Glossary terms: High school completer
Data Source: Current Population Survey (CPS)


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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education