Number of U.S. high school students shrinking: Study

More adults, non-traditional students need skills to fill jobs
||Last Updated: 06/24/2011

Just as the United States economy is demanding more workers have some post-secondary education or training, the traditional source of such workers — high school graduates — is leveling off and even declining in some states, according to research by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS).

So ensuring more adults have access to and complete college is critical for the nation’s continuing economic competitiveness, said their paper Not Just Kid Stuff Anymore: The Economic Imperative for More Adults to Complete College.

Over the next decade, there will be no national growth in the number of high school graduates and some states will see the number of high school graduates decline by as much as 18 to 20 per cent. In looking at state-by-state projections of the number of high school graduates through 2020, the paper finds the flow of young workers into the workforce is drying up, especially in states in the Midwest and New England such as Ohio, Michigan, North Dakota, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.

By 2018 the demand for college-educated workers will rise 16 per cent while demand for other workers will stay flat. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of jobs in 2018 will require some post-secondary education or training.

“The country’s economic competitiveness rests on more people accessing post-secondary education and credentials,” said Patrick Kelly, a senior associate at NCHEMS and co-author of the report. “And with the aging of our population and decline in number of recent high school graduates entering college and the workforce, we need to make sure even more adults and non-traditional students have the skills they need to fill tomorrow’s jobs.”

While research projects adult enrolment in college will grow twice as fast as enrolments by traditional age students, non-traditional students already make up a significant percentage of the college population: 36 per cent are age 25 or older, 47 per cent are considered independent from their parents, 23 per cent are parents and 40 per cent are low-income.

“It is critical that federal student aid be responsive to the needs of adults who often must juggle work, family and school responsibilities and who are on their own financially,” the report stated.

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