State report shows fewer Colorado high school students are going to college right after graduation

Written by: Children's Campaign
Date Posted: August 5, 2022

In its 2022 report, “Postsecondary Access and Success for Colorado’s High School Graduates,” the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) follows the state’s high school graduating class of 2020 into their first year of college. College-going rates for this class dropped almost 6% from 2019, illuminating the initial impact of the pandemic on college pathways.  

Even prior to the pandemic, Colorado’s graduating high school seniors matriculated at a rate below the national average. The 2020 college-going rate, at 50.5%, is more than 10 percentage points below the 2020 national average of 62.7%. While Colorado is struggling to produce a college-educated pipeline, it continues to import highly educated talent to meet workforce demands. The state’s resident attainment rate is nine percentage points above the national average. CDHE expressed concern for the state’s ability to reach its postsecondary attainment goal and meet workforce demand without a marked increase in college-going and completion rates.  

College-going rates are also distinctly disparate across lines of race. While the pandemic negatively impacted college-going rates for every race and ethnic group, students from three groups dropped by more than ten percentage points since 2015: American Indian or Alaska Native, Black (not Hispanic), and those of two or more races. The pandemic also had a greater negative impact on rural student enrollment than on students from other areas. Small rural districts saw only 43.2% of graduates enrolled in college, a drop of almost 10% from 2019.  

CDHE has identified several policy interventions to support all students and strengthen credential completion. One intervention is to encourage preparation, enrollment, and credential attainment for students in households with low incomes, students of color, and students from rural areas, addressing some of the previously discussed disparities.  

The report also illuminates some positive news for Colorado high school students and their educational attainment. Over the last 10 years, the number of high school graduates who enrolled in dual enrollment—programs that offer free college-level courses for credit—has grown by over 228%. The vast majority of these dual enrollment students were able to make progress toward a degree or certificate, allowing for significant cost savings on potential tuition.  

More students are earning college credentials while in high school, and there is a continued decrease in the need for developmental education courses at community colleges due to policy reform. While many of the reported data is concerning for educational attainment of graduating high schoolers, some of these highlights signal positive change. Read the full report here: 2022_Postsecondary_Progress_rel20220503.pdf (colorado.gov) 

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The Colorado Children’s Campaign is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization committed since 1985 to realizing every chance for every child in Colorado. We advocate for the development and implementation of data-driven public policies that improve child wellbeing in health, education and early childhood. We do this by providing Coloradans with trusted data and research on child wellbeing and organizing an extensive state-wide network of dedicated child advocates. For more information, please visit www.coloradokids.org.