Washington students still less likely to enroll in college after pandemic

Over the past 10 years, high school graduation rates have increased significantly across Washington state, but the number of graduates pursuing a post-secondary degree directly after school has declined.
About 66,000 students graduated high school in Washington in 2013 compared to about 74,000 graduates in 2022. This is an increase from 76% of high school students graduating with a degree to 82% graduating with a degree.
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But according to a study by the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), the direct enrollment rate following high school graduation dropped from 60% to 50% during the COVID-19 pandemic and has not yet recovered.
Only half of 2020 Washington high school graduates enrolled directly in a two-year or four-year college after graduating, compared to 59% in 2019.
This direct enrollment into college is also lower than the national average, despite this decrease also appearing as a national trend, where 66% enrolled directly in 2019 compared to 63% in 2020.
California’s direct enrollment rate fell by about two percentage points in 2020 (from 65% in 2019 to 63% in 2020,) and Idaho’s direct enrollment rate decreased by seven percentage points (from 46% to 39%.)
Declines in the direct enrollment rate also varied by race, which the WSAC said could further exacerbate existing racial inequities in postsecondary enrollment. The largest decline in direct enrollment was among Latino students. In total, the direct enrollment rate was 14 percentage points lower for Hispanic students in the Class of 2021 than before the pandemic.
“As evidence of the pandemic’s impact on students continues to mount, it is increasingly important that the state continues to provide ample resources and supports to students furthest from educational equity,” the report said.
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As a result of the pandemic’s impact on students, the state continues to provide resources and supports to students furthest from educational equity. WSAC is working with partners across the state to build a more supportive environment for college access and success through the Regional Challenge Grant.

WSAC is also engaged in a variety of efforts to improve access to financial aid.