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Indicator 18: College Participation Rates
(Last Updated: July 2017)

From 2005 to 2015, the total college enrollment rate for Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds increased from 25 to 37 percent. However, the 2015 total college enrollment rates for young adults of most other racial/ethnic groups were not measurably different from their 2005 rates.

The percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college has increased over the past two decades. College participation can be measured and described in terms of the total college enrollment rate, as well as the immediate college enrollment rate, which is discussed later in this indicator. The total college enrollment rate is defined as the percentage of all 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges and universities.


Figure 18.1. Total college enrollment rates of 18- to 24-year-olds in degree-granting institutions, by race/ethnicity: 1990–2015

Figure 18.1. Total college enrollment rates of 18- to 24-year-olds in degree-granting institutions, by race/ethnicity: 1990–2015


NOTE: After 2002, individual race categories exclude persons identifying as Two or more races. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Data are based on sample surveys of the civilian noninstitutional population living in the 50 states and D.C.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October, 1990–2015. See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 302.60.


The total college enrollment rate at 2- and 4-year colleges and universities increased from 32 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 2015, with most of the increase occurring between 1990 and 2005. From 2005 to 2015, the total college enrollment rate for Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds increased from 25 to 37 percent. However, the total college enrollment rates for young adults of most other racial/ethnic groups were not measurably different from their 2005 rates. The exception was Pacific Islanders, for whom the 2005 college enrollment rate was higher than the 2015 rate.

The total college enrollment rate for Asian 18- to 24-year-olds has been higher than the rates for their White, Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native peers, as well as their peers of Two or more races, in every year between 2005 and 2015, and higher than their Pacific Islander peers in all but two of the years during this time span. The Asian-Hispanic gap in total college enrollment rate narrowed between 2005 and 2015 (from 36 to 26 percentage points), but the gaps between Asian enrollment and enrollment of students from the other racial/ethnic groups did not change measurably during this time. The total college enrollment rate for White 18- to 24-year-olds has been higher than the rates for their Black and Hispanic peers in every year since 2005. The White-Hispanic gap in total college enrollment rate narrowed between 2005 and 2015 (from 18 to 5 percentage points); however, the White-Black gap in total college enrollment rate did not change measurably during this period.


Figure 18.2. Total college enrollment rates of 18- to 24-year-olds in degree-granting institutions, by race/ethnicity: 2015

Figure 18.2. Total college enrollment rates of 18- to 24-year-olds in degree-granting institutions, by race/ethnicity: 2015


NOTE: Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Data are based on sample surveys of the civilian noninstitutional population living in the 50 states and D.C.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October, 2015. See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 302.60.


The 2015 total college enrollment rate for Asian 18- to 24-year-olds (63 percent) was higher than the rates for their White (42 percent), Hispanic (37 percent), Black (35 percent), Pacific Islander (24 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native (23 percent) peers and for their peers of Two or more races (38 percent). Also, the 2015 total college enrollment rate for White young adults was higher than the rates for their Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native peers. The total college enrollment rates for Black and Hispanic young adults and young adults of Two or more races were higher than the rate for American Indian/Alaska Native young adults.


Figure 18.3. Total college enrollment rates of 18- to 24-year-olds in degree-granting institutions, by race/ethnicity and sex: 2005 and 2015

Figure 18.3. Total college enrollment rates of 18- to 24-year-olds in degree-granting institutions, by race/ethnicity and sex: 2005 and 2015


NOTE: Data are based on sample surveys of the civilian noninstitutional population living in the 50 states and D.C. Total includes other racial/ethnic groups not separately shown, including Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Two or more races. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October 2005 and 2015. See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 302.60.


The total college enrollment rate was higher in 2015 than in 2005 for 18- to 24-year-old males overall (38 vs. 35 percent) and for Black males (34 vs. 28 percent), Hispanic males (33 vs. 21 percent), and Hispanic females (41 vs. 30 percent). However, total college enrollment rates, did not measurably differ between 2005 and 2015 for the following groups: females overall, White males, White females, and Black females.

In 2015, the total college enrollment rate of 18- to 24-year-old females overall was higher than that of males overall (43 vs. 38 percent), as well as among White (44 vs. 39 percent) and Hispanic (41 vs. 33 percent) 18- to 24-year-olds. The same pattern of female enrollment being higher than male enrollment was observed in 2005, with the addition that the rate for Black females was higher than that for Black males.


Figure 18.4. Percentage of high school completers who were enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges and universities by the fall immediately following high school completion, by race/ethnicity: 1990–2015

Figure 18.4. Percentage of high school completers who were enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges and universities by the fall immediately following high school completion, by race/ethnicity: 1990–2015


NOTE: Percentages for racial/ethnic groups are based on moving averages, which are used to produce more stable estimates. A 3-year moving average is a weighted average of the year indicated, the year immediately preceding, and the year immediately following. Three-year moving averages are presented in all but two instances: The moving average for Asian data in 2003 reflects an average of 2003 and 2004 data and the moving averages for 2015 reflect an average of 2014 and 2015 data. 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 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. Total includes other racial/ethnic groups not separately shown, including Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Two or more races. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October, 1990–2015. See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 302.20.


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 and universities in the fall immediately following their completion of high school. The immediate college enrollment rate increased from 60 percent in 1990 to 69 percent in 2015, with almost all of the increase occurring prior to 2005.1 This pattern of an overall increase from 1990 to 2015 with a leveling off in 2005 was observed for White students and Black students. For Hispanic students, the immediate college enrollment increased from 52 percent in 1990 to 67 percent in 2015. While the Asian rate fluctuated over time, there was no measurable change during this period.

The immediate college enrollment rate for Asian high school completers (87 percent) was higher than the rates for White (70 percent), Hispanic (67 percent), and Black (63 percent), high school completers in 2015 and in each year since 2005. In 2015, there were no measurable differences between the immediate college enrollment rates of high school completers who were White, Black, and Hispanic.

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1 Due to some short-term data fluctuations associated with small sample sizes, estimates for the racial/ethnic groups were calculated based on 3-year moving averages, except in 2015, when estimates were calculated based on 2-year moving averages.