A college degree is increasingly important in a service and skill-oriented world, and many good jobs require at least some college education. While college attendance is rapidly increasing among high school graduates, not all students attend college, and many either take more than four years to finish or drop out. Students living in poverty are less likely to attend college than other students, and several other factors can affect college attendance.
College Attendance Rates
In 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 69.7 percent of students who graduated high school in 2016 were enrolled in college. About 49 percent of these students are enrolled in community colleges, according to a 2017 report issued by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
College Attendance Factors
A number of factors play a role in a student's decision to attend college. Family environment is particularly important; children whose parents don't value education, don't encourage them to go to college and don't help them with the college application process are less likely to choose higher education. Poverty is also a significant factor; the cost of a college application can be prohibitive for some students, and many of these students are concerned that they will be unable to afford college or are worried about getting a job to help support their families. Teen pregnancy, learning disabilities and academic difficulties during high school can also decrease the likelihood that a student will attend college.
College Graduation Rates
Although most students enroll in college, many of them don't graduate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 58 percent of college students finish their degrees within six years. About 40 percent of students graduate within four years, according to College Planning Partnerships. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 33 percent of adults had a college degree as of 2016, and this number has been steadily climbing over the past several decades.
Factors Affecting Graduation
Race and ethnicity play major roles in whether or not a student graduates, with Asian students having the highest graduation rate, and African American and American Indian students having the lowest graduation rates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Students living in poverty -- who are often racial minorities -- often have more difficulty graduating. The pressure to get a job and make money can make leaving school tempting. "The Fiscal Times" also reports that the structure of college courses can interfere with graduation; a student who can't get into a particular class might have her graduation delayed by an entire year.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: College Enrollment and Work Activity of 2011 High School Graduates
- National Center for Education Statistics: Back to School Statistics
- National Center for Education Statistics: Graduation Rates
- College Planning Partnerships: Sixty Percent of All College Freshmen Do Not Graduate in Four Years
- The Fiscal Times: Why America's College Students Don't Graduate
- The New York Times: Only Half of First-Time College Students Graduate in Six Years
- The Christian Science Monitor: Why Good Students Don't Reach College
- U.S. Census Bureau: Educational Attainment in the United States -- 2009
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.