High school graduates’ college-going rate remains stagnant; new report outlines policy recommendations designed to mitigate potential declines in enrollment due to COVID-19

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DENVER, May 15, 2020: Among Colorado’s high school class of 2018, 56.6 percent, or about 34,000 students, enrolled in a postsecondary institution directly after graduation, according to Pathways to Prosperity: Postsecondary Access and Success for Colorado’s High School Graduates, issued today by the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE). Factoring in students who earned a credential through concurrent and dual enrollment programs, the college-going rate rises to 57.7 percent.
Of the college-going group, 72.3 percent chose to attend a Colorado college or university, while nearly a quarter (24.7 percent) opted for out-of-state institutions. About 10 percent more women (61.8 percent) enrolled than men (51.4 percent), continuing a ten-year trend.
Interventions such as dual enrollment, career and technical education and other programs designed to help high school students achieve an industry- or postsecondary-recognized credential in high school are creating more robust pathways to being workforce ready. The number of high school graduates who are graduating with a postsecondary-recognized credential has increased more than 1,000 percent over 10 years.
“Due to the state’s investment in concurrent enrollment, CTE and other programs, our high school students are graduating with the experiences needed to be successful in college and the workforce,” said Dr. Angie Paccione, executive director of CDHE. “Now, more than ever, we want these same students to continue on to postsecondary education, so they experience the stability and economic security of a credential in a seemingly uncertain time.”
Racial gaps persist
Gaps continue to persist between racial/ethnic groups in college-going rates. Asian and White high school graduates had the highest college-going rates in 2018—79 percent and 61.4 percent, respectively. Students that identify as Two or More Races were at 59.1 percent; Black or African American students at 55.1 percent; Hawaiian or Pacific Islander at 48 percent; Hispanic or Latinx students at 45.9 percent and American Indian or Alaska Native students were at 43.8 percent.  
Outcomes for lower income Coloradans
Similar to the racial/ethnic gaps, enrollment discrepancies persist among students from lower income families. Students who received free or reduced lunch in high school enrolled in college at disproportionately lower rates than their counterparts (43 vs. 61 percent).
Student success measures
Research suggests students who complete more than 30 credits in their first year in college are more likely to graduate from college. For the class of 2018, 49.4 percent of students met this benchmark, up from 45 percent in 2014. Colorado’s Hispanic or Latinx and African American or Black students lag behind their White and Asian peers in college credit accumulation, GPAs, overall retention and four-year graduation rates.

Other key findings

  • Postsecondary completion rates have risen for every high school class since 2009
  • 57 percent of high school graduates enrolled in postsecondary education the fall after graduation
  • 72 percent enrolled in CTE Courses in high school
  • 53 percent of 2018 high school graduates completed a CTE program
  • In the past decade the number of high school graduates who enrolled in dual enrollment has grown more than 200 percent
  • Colorado is a leader in integrating work-based learning into high school programs
  • Minority participation in CTE has improved from 2017
  • Female graduates have a higher rate of graduating with dual enrollment credentials than males
  • Students who participate in CTE and dual enrollment have a higher rate of going to college

Policy recommendations
The Department outlined four policy recommendations designed to support students and strengthen pathways:

  1. CDHE should work with institutions of higher education, K-12 partners, the College Board and My Colorado Journey to launch a direct admit campaign.
  2. Create an Academic Core Completion Certificate that can be awarded through Concurrent Enrollment and by both two- and four-year institutions.
  3. CDHE, in partnership with the General Education Council who already oversees transfer pathways, should lead an effort to create a finite number of structured degree pathways.
  4. CDHE should develop an annual Colorado equity report that examines student outcomes by different populations and task a state-wide body with addressing the inequities the report identifies.

About the report
Now in its ninth year, this annual report provides statewide and school district specific results to help strengthen student success and alignment between K-12 and higher education systems. The report was submitted to the Senate and House Education Committees of the Colorado General Assembly and the State Board of Education, pursuant to 23-1-113 [9] C.R.S.