Polls show that Americans are losing faith in the value of a college education, and many, including high school students, are debating whether college is “worth it.” College enrollments are in decline, and undergraduate degree attainment numbers fell last year for the first time in a decade. The percentage of high school graduates enrolling in college immediately after high school has dropped, and there is widespread alarm that community colleges in particular are in trouble.
In this follow-up to The Class of 2022: Planning for the Future in Uncertain Times,over 25,000 high school seniors in the Class of 2023 weigh in about whether college features in their future plans. We explore which groups of students want to go to college – and which students actually expect to go to college.
We also spotlight three groups of students (boys/men, Black/African American, and Hispanic/Latinx) in this year’s graduating class who have, in recent years, reported a diminished interest in college. What comes to light is a concerning pattern of mismatched aspirations and expectations that show how, for many students, navigating the pathway to“the college dream” has become increasingly difficult.
FINDING 1: Aspirations versus Expectations
Three out of four seniors in the class of 2023 want to go college, but there is a mismatch between students’ college aspirations and their expectations that they will actually enroll in college. This college aspiration-expectation mismatch is more acute for some groups of students than others.
FINDING 2: Inequity Exacerbated
The class of 2023’s aspiration for college differs significantly by race and gender, and disparities in which students want to go to college have been exacerbated over the last three years.
FINDING 3: Community College
While the percentage of seniors expecting to attend a four-year college has held steady at 46 percent over the last three years, the percentage of seniors expecting to attend a community college has dropped from 25 percent in 2019 to 20 percent in 2023 as Black students are increasingly under-represented on community college campuses.