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

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.

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

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 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

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.

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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

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Increasing Postsecondary Enrollment: Chehalis SD Case Study

In the Chehalis School District, more than 9 of 10 students are graduating in four years from W. F. West High School, a higher rate than the state average. An increasing number are going on to pursue a post-high school credential. The “credential going” culture has developed out of the district’s commitment to increased dual-credit opportunities and rigorous coursework, an active partnership with Centralia College, strong supports for students who have been systemically underserved, particularly first-generation college students and those from low-income households, and active collaboration among staff. Learn more about what makes the district stand out in our new case study, which is part of our Credential is Essential series.

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2020 Update: The Path to 70% Credential Attainment

REPORT: Right now, it’s estimated that just 41% of our high school students go on to earn a credential by age 26. To ensure students are prepared for jobs and opportunity, Washington must rapidly increase the rate at which students prepare for, pursue, and complete postsecondary credentials, according to a new report from the Washington Roundtable and Partnership for Learning.

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Increasing Postsecondary Enrollment: West Valley SD Case Study

More than 9 in 10 students in Spokane’s West Valley School District graduate on time. Six in 10 enroll directly in postsecondary education. West Valley is outpacing the state as a whole on both metrics, and much of that success can be attributed to rigorous expectations paired with robust guidance. See where West Valley wins in our latest ‘Credential is Essential’ district case study.

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Increasing Postsecondary Enrollment: Edmonds SD Case Study

High school students in Edmonds School District graduate at a higher rate than their peers statewide. They also enroll in post-high school education at much higher rates. Targeted supports, guidance, and partnerships are helping to drive this out-sized success. Learn more about where Edmonds SD excels in a new case study as part of our Credential is Essential series.

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