Postsecondary enrollment plateaus – 51,000+ Fewer Students Enrolled Since Pandemic

A chart showing postsecondary enrollment trends in WA state.

 

After three years of steep declines, postsecondary enrollment in Washington is showing signs of recovery. According to data shared with Washington Roundtable by the state’s public postsecondary institutions, 51,000+ fewer students enrolled in our public institutions in fall 2023 than in fall 2019 – representing a 17% enrollment decline since the pandemic’s onset. This comes when postsecondary education is increasingly the only pathway to middle-class jobs.

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Path to 70 Update: Projected decline in credential attainment demands bold action

Bar graph showing the credential attainment rate trajectory over the last 15 years for Washington students.

 

In 2016, the Washington Roundtable set a goal: 70% of Washington students—overall and within each racial and ethnic community—will complete a postsecondary credential by age 26. This goal reflects the workforce needs of Washington employers and national and state data projecting that at least 70% of jobs in our state will be filled by workers who complete a postsecondary credential, such as a degree, apprenticeship, or industry-aligned certificate or license.

New data analysis indicates that nearly a third of the progress made toward the goal since the class of 2006 was wiped out during the pandemic. The estimated credential attainment rate for the high school class of 2021 is 40%—three percentage points lower than the class of 2019 and 30 points below the goal.

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New laws will support post-HS credential attainment

 

The 2023 legislative session resulted in several policy changes and investments that support Partnership for Learning’s goal that 70% of Washington students complete a credential after high school, such as a degree, apprenticeship, or industry-aligned certificate or license. New policies the legislature passed include:

  • Earning College Credit in High School:
    1. All costs will be covered for high school students taking College in the High School courses, for which they earn both college and high school credit. Students who earn college credit in high school are much more likely to go on to postsecondary education. This new law is a significant win for students and advancing progress toward increasing the post-high school education enrollment rate (SB 5048).
    2.  Students can now earn up to 10 college credits cost-free via Running Start courses during the summer (HB 1316).
  • Tuition Timing: Students will know the cost of tuition at Washington’s public colleges and universities for the upcoming academic year, allowing them to make better-informed enrollment decisions (SB 5079).
  • Student-level Data Sharing: Washington colleges and universities will be better able to support students’ transition from high school because of improved data sharing between OSPI and postsecondary institutions (SB 5593).
  • Improved Education and Career Planning: The state will adopt a universal digital platform for the High School and Beyond Plan to improve students’ access to tools and resources that enable career exploration, course planning, and preparation for post-high school education (SB 5243).
  • WSAC Regional Challenge Grants: The new state budget includes funding to continue grants that support regional partnerships aimed at increasing postsecondary enrollment and credential attainment.

Partnership for Learning worked closely with many important partners to support these policies, and we are grateful for the collaboration. As we seek to raise the rate at which Washington students enroll in and complete post-high school education, these new laws and investments can ease students’ experiences in the critical transition from high school to college and career training.

 

Learn more about our work and join us at www.credentialessential.com.

New report: Postsecondary enrollment declined for 3rd straight year

The crisis of stagnant or declining postsecondary enrollment – a concern even before the pandemic – is deepening at Washington’s public two- and four-year colleges and universities. According to data shared with the Washington Roundtable by the state’s public postsecondary institutions:

  • Fall 2022 enrollment of resident undergraduate students at Washington’s public four-year colleges and universities is down by nearly 10,000 students (11.3%) compared to pre-pandemic figures (fall 2019).
  • Preliminary data also indicate that enrollment across the state’s 34 community and technical colleges is down by could be down upwards of 60,000 students (an estimated decline of 26% or more).

The decline in postsecondary enrollment contrasts with the increasing economic need for credentialed workers in Washington state. From Nov. 2021 to Nov. 2022, employers added more than 130,000 jobs in Washington. That follows a decade of economic growth when a credential—such as a degree, apprenticeship, or certificate—had become essential for jobs that offer a good salary and advancement opportunities.

Read more about the picture of postsecondary enrollment in Washington in fall 2022 in our latest report. Meeting students where they are and improving the postsecondary credential attainment rate is critical to our state’s future. Join us.

Read the report

New case study: The promise of flexible learning

Washington employers will create an estimated 373,000 net new jobs in our state by 2026. Seventy percent of these jobs are expected to require or be filled by workers with a postsecondary credential—such as a degree, apprenticeship, or certificate. Bur our state is facing a crisis in credential attainment. Further, the pandemic has driven alarming drops in postsecondary education enrollment.

Our new case study explores flexible learning models that are driving up postsecondary enrollment. One particularly bright success story comes from the all-virtual Western Governors University in Washington (WGU Washington).  From 2011 to 2019, WGU Washington grew from less than 1,000 to 12,000 students. As of March 2021, there were 13,905 students attending WGU Washington, and enrollment had grown 15.8% in just the last two years.  By comparison, nearly all of Washington’s public two- and four-year institutions experienced enrollment declines during the same time period.

Our case study explores the five reasons WGU Washington cites for enrollment growth: an all-virtual model, flat tuition rate, flexible and student-directed learning, consistent mentoring, and streamlined academic pathways.

Learn more here

‘You belong in science:’ Fred Hutch builds education pathways




Yusuf remembers learning about robotics and computer science in middle school. “It clicked with me,” he says. “I was good at it, and I enjoyed it.”

During 10th grade at Sammamish High School, Yusuf’s AP chemistry teacher urged him to apply to the two-week Pathways Research Explorers Program at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The program provides high school students from underrepresented communities an immersive, hands-on introduction to cancer biology, lab activities, and research careers.

“I was smiling the whole time. I was having fun,” Yusuf says. “I met a computational biologist while they were explaining what they did. I thought, that’s what I want to do.”

The Pathways Research Explorers Program is a launchpad for many students who go on to participate in Fred Hutch’s more intensive programs as they progress through their academic experiences. Students conduct scientific experiments related to cancer and talk to scientists in various positions, including people from groups systematically marginalized and excluded from research.

After learning about computational biology, Yusuf completed a yearlong internship with Fred Hutch in 11th grade. Through regular meetings with his mentor, a computational biologist, Yusuf learned about both coding and biology, and used machine learning to analyze COVID-19 data.

“It was a new experience that I don’t think I could have gotten anywhere else,” Yusuf says.

“You belong in science”

Through science education outreach, Fred Hutch – a member of the Washington Roundtable, of which Partnership for Learning is the education foundation – actively works to recruit, support, and retain high school and undergraduate students from communities underrepresented in scientific research. Students gain hands-on STEM experience while receiving career guidance and mentorship. Program participants become cancer researchers, computer engineers, and more. The programs also serve as a way for Fred Hutch to build a diverse pool of scientific researchers and engage communities across the state.

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New case study: The benefits of dual credit

Washington employers are expected to create 373,000 net new jobs in our state over the next five years. An estimated 70% of these jobs will require or be filled by workers with a postsecondary credential – such as a degree, apprenticeship, or certificate. But our state is facing a crisis in credential attainment, and the pandemic has driven alarming drops in postsecondary enrollment.

Our new report explores how earning college credit while in high school can help Washington students succeed in post-high school education, examines how to increase equity in dual credit participation, and spotlights a successful partnership between Wenatchee Valley College and Bridgeport High School.

Read the report

New Report: Washington’s Postsecondary Enrollment Crisis Intensifies

Employers will add an estimated 373,000 net new jobs in Washington state over the next five years. About 70% of these jobs will require or be filled by workers with a post-high school credential, such as a degree, apprenticeship, or certificate.

Washington Roundtable and Partnership for Learning are focused on one goal: By the high school class of 2030, 70% of Washington students – overall and within each racial and ethnic group – will complete a post-high school credential by age 26.

But even before the pandemic, too few of Washington’s young people, particularly young people of color and those from low-income backgrounds, were enrolling in postsecondary education and completing credentials. In our new report, learn how increasing the postsecondary enrollment rate is our greatest opportunity to ensure Washington students are ready for opportunities that await.

Read the report

Read the fact sheet

WA high school principals discuss challenges & potential solutions

This fall, the 2021-22 Chief Education Officer (CEO) Network welcomed 6 new members. A partnership between the Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP), Partnership for Learning, Washington Roundtable, and Challenge Seattle, the CEO Network brings a cohort of principals together during monthly workshops and offers access to online curriculum developed by AWSP. Principals are key to attracting and keeping high-quality teachers, according to research cited by the Education Policy Center. The CEO Network meetings are a place for principals to connect with their peers across the state, discuss solutions to challenges, and make their voices heard. Members have expressed the value of having a dedicated space with their peers to discuss topics such as grading, COVID, hiring, and credits. Read More

Career Connect Washington Program Directory

To make it easier for young people to access local programs and pathways to economic success, Career Connect Washington has created an online, statewide directory of all levels of career connected learning opportunities. This directory is designed to be used by students, families, young adults, educators, and school counselors—in short, anyone who is in a position to help people between 15-30 prepare for their Next Big Thing.

The Career Connect Washington Program Directory allows users to search by interest, location, and intensity level. They can also filter their results by education level, program type, and wage range, and have the ability to connect to support resources.