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Number of High School Graduates to Decline by 2022, NCES Predicts

New data from the National Center for Education Statistics forecast a decline in the number of high school graduates over the next decade and college enrollment rising, but at a much slower pace than in recent years.

The projected decline in the number of high school grades is traced primarily to demographic shifts, as measured by the percentage of 12th graders and to the historical relationship between the number of seniors and high school graduates.  The high school graduate projections reflect past trends in factors such as dropouts, migration, and transfers between public and private high school, according to researchers.

The report, released Feb. 27, shows high school graduates increased by 27 percent nationally from the 1997-98 to 2009-10 school years, but overall is expected to decline by 2 percent by 2022-23. Within those estimates, public high school graduates are projected to increase 1 percent while private high school completers will decline by 29 percent. The number of graduates will likely expand in the South and West, while the Northeast and Midwest see fewer, the center anticipates.

The diversity of students is also expected to change. Between 2009-10 and 2022-23, NCES estimates there will be 16 percent fewer white students, 14 percent fewer black students, and 29 percent fewer American Indian/Native Alaskans. At the same time, it projects that Hispanics will grow by 64 percent and Asian/Pacific Islanders by 23 percent.

What do these demographic shifts mean for higher education?

The NCES still predicts colleges will see more students, but with growth slowing in the next decade. From 1997 to 2011, first-time freshmen increased by 39 percent and the new report suggests an increase of just 16 percent by 2022. The big difference is linked to an expected drop (4 percent) in the number of Americans ages 18-24 in the next decade, compared with an increase in the recent past. The enrollment projections are related to projections of college-age populations, disposable income, and unemployment rates.

As for what kinds of degrees will be in demand in the future, the NCES anticipates that by 2022 the total number of bachelor degrees will increase by 17 percent (compared with 45 percent from 1997-2011) and associate degrees by 49 percent (compared with 69 percent in the previous period).

The report notes that the enrollment projections do not take into account such factors as the cost of a college education, the economic value of an education, and the impact of distance learning due to technological changes. These factors may produce changes in enrollment levels.

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