October 3, 2003

Fewer Americans likely to attend college, study finds

By Laura Withers
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON - A study released Wednesday finds a growing number of Americans are at risk of losing the opportunity to attend college.

According to the Educational Commission of the States, the United States has fallen from first place to 13th among developed nations in college participation and access in the last decade.

The study, “Closing the College Participation Gap,” is based on U.S. Census 2000 data and reveals that half of the states likely will see little to no growth or a decline in the number of college participants by 2015.

The United States’ failure to produce high school graduates at a competitive rate means other nations are gaining important footing as they have stepped up efforts to improve achievement levels among their younger populations, the report says.

But according to the study, college is not just for teenage high school graduates anymore.

Adults age 25 and older now comprise nearly half of the more than 17 million U.S. college students. The changing economy will create a 13 percent greater demand for college among the adult population by 2015.

The study also attempts to determine who is – and who is not – participating in post-secondary education. It found gaps in college participation based on age, race and ethnicity.

Hispanics face the largest risk in gaining access to college, the study found. The fastest-growing ethnic group in the country, the Hispanic population is expected to increase by nearly 50 percent by 2015. The study found that 48 percent of Hispanics age 25 and older lack a high school diploma, compared to 20 percent for the population as a whole and 15 percent for whites.

The increasing cost of college tuition also plays an important role in many Americans’ access to higher education.

According to the study, during the 2002-03 school year, college tuition and mandatory fees increased in every state. Tuition jumped an average of 9.6 percent at public four-year institutions, 5.8 percent at private four-year institutions and 7.9 percent at public two-year colleges.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, ECS chairman, was scheduled to discuss the report at a news briefing Wednesday afternoon.

“Unless state leaders act now in response to the vital new information that this study puts forth, America will not be adequately equipped to face its own internal economic challenges or to regain its position as the world leader in educational opportunity,” Warner said in a news release.

The study was funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as part of an initiative to increase access to post-secondary education. ECS is a non-profit organization that advises state governments about education.

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