While some may bemoan recent data indicating that college enrollment is no longer rising as it had been, the fact that more people are opting to enter the workforce immediately after high school graduation may be an indication of recent economic improvement. U.S. college enrollment accelerated during the recession, at least in part because of a difficult employment market that held little promise.
As pointed out in a recent piece by Moody’s Analytics, as the unemployment rate for high school graduates approached 12 percent, more people chose to enter or stay in school, which pushed the percentage of college-enrolled high school graduates to an all-time high of 70 percent for the class of 2009.
With the economy improving more recently, the share of high school graduates attending college has slipped, down to around 66% for the class of 2013, the lowest percentage recorded in a decade. The class of 2013 represents the third decline over the past 4 years, bringing the cumulative reduction in the share of high school graduates attending college to 4.2 percentage points. This is not without precedent. The percentage of high school graduates moving straight to college declined during the late 1990s, but then began to rise during the recession of 2001.