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Media Release: New Data Shows Direct Enrollment Decline

New Data Shows Sharp Decline in Students Moving Directly from High School to College

March 9, 2023

Olympia—Over the past decade, Washington’s high school graduation rate has steadily increased, but the proportion of the state’s graduates who enroll directly in college has not. The direct enrollment rate that once hovered around 60 percent dropped to 50 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Declines in the direct enrollment rate varied by race, which could further exacerbate existing racial inequities in postsecondary enrollment.

Washington’s direct enrollment rate is lower than the national average, and the decline in direct enrollment was more significant than the national trend. In 2020, the national direct enrollment rate fell by 3 percentage points (from 66 percent in 2019 to 63 percent in 2020), compared to a decline of 8 percentage points in Washington (from 59 percent to 51 percent). 

Other nearby states also experienced enrollment decline during the pandemic. California’s direct enrollment rate fell by about 2 percentage points in 2020 (from 65 percent in 2019 to 63 percent in 2020) and Idaho’s direct enrollment rate fell by 7 percentage points (from 46 percent to 39 percent). (Note: national data and state data for California and Idaho define “direct enrollment” as occurring by the fall following high school graduation. Washington’s direct enrollment rate includes enrollment within one year of high school graduation.)

A new Research Spotlight from the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) describes how the pandemic took a significant toll on direct enrollment in the state. Key findings include:

  • Washington’s direct enrollment rate dropped 9 percentage points between 2019 and 2021, a sharp departure from the previous decade of stagnant direct postsecondary enrollment in the state.
  • Direct enrollment in two-year institutions declined more than direct enrollment in four-year institutions.
  • Hispanic or Latino students experienced the largest decline in direct enrollment, from 54 percent in 2019 to 40 percent in 2021.

The full Research Spotlight can be found on the WSAC website.