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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, December 07, 2016 10:00 pm

High school grad supply falls, challenging colleges

Nick Anderson Washington Post

The nation’s total output of high school graduates peaked in 2013 at nearly 3.5 million and is projected to stagnate for most of the next decade, but the Hispanic share is expected to boom, according to a new report.

The demographic shifts point to major recruiting challenges for colleges after an era of steady growth in the number of high school graduates that started in the late 1990s. While that growth had provided a solid pipeline for schools focused on serving traditional students ages 18 to 22, the supply of these students appears to be dwindling or leveling off.

As a result, many colleges have been forced to rethink how to fill seats and educate incoming students who are more likely than their predecessors to be the first in their families to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

The report from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, released Tuesday, illuminates potential mismatches in supply and demand for higher education.

Some states, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast, have lots of colleges and a declining number of high school graduates. Other states in the South and West have the opposite problem: The output of high school graduates from Texas alone is projected to rise 19 percent from 2013 to 2025.

Overall, the report shows that the U.S. high school class of 2013, public and private, was about 3.47 million; the nation’s graduating class is not expected to reach that level again until 2024.

The report also found that the number of Hispanic graduates from public schools is projected to rise 43 percent from 2013 to 2025, while the number of white graduates is expected to decline 6 percent. The number of private high school graduates is expected to fall 18 percent in that time.

Joseph Garcia, the commission’s president, said the trends could imperil schools that fall short of recruiting targets, especially small colleges. With the number of private school graduates and white students ebbing in many places, he said, colleges that relied for generations on certain "feeder schools" could be forced to get creative.

"You can’t use your same old techniques," he said. "You need to change your approach."

The 15-state commission has studied the demographics of high school graduates for decades. Its report, "Knocking at the College Door," is the first update to that research in four years.

Jeff Strohl, director of research for Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, said colleges must resist the urge to keep "fishing in the same pond" of potential students.

"They’re going to need to spread their enrollment and recruiting activities outside of the places they’ve already gone," he said.