College Enrollment by Age 1950 to 2000

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1 College Enrollment by Age 1950 to 2000 Colleges compete with the labor market and other adult endeavors for the time and attention of young people in a hurry to grow up. Gradually, young adults drift away from higher education and into their other adult roles. Higher education's opportunity to enroll and educate young adults is brief. For individuals, college enrollment has opportunity costs of foregone income and lifestyle choices. However, as the data described here illustrate, a growing share of adults remain enrolled in school. They extend their formal education both because they want to (demand for higher education), and because they can (supply of higher education opportunity). Here we explore school (mostly college) enrollment of the population beginning at age 18 through whatever age people still seek the benefits of higher education. Note that compulsory state school enrollment laws require school enrollment through about age 16. After 16 school enrollment becomes voluntary. At age 18 when young people become adults, many adult roles are available and higher education is in hot competition for the commitment of adults. Controlling for age, different demographic groups of the population show distinctive enrollment trends and patterns. Notably: Women are more likely to be enrolled than are men. Asian/Pacific Islanders and non-hispanic whites are more likely to be enrolled than are blacks and Hispanics at younger adult ages, but blacks become those most likely to be enrolled after age 30. Adults over 25 are more likely to be enrolled in college as undergraduates in the western Rocky Mountain states, and less likely to be enrolled as undergraduates in the mid-atlantic states, than are people at this age in the rest of the United States. Public institutions provide about 80 percent of undergraduate enrollment at all age levels. Four-year colleges enroll about three quarters of undergraduates in higher education through age 24, two thirds of those between 25 and 34 years, and about half of undergraduates age 35 and over. These and many other findings result from our analysis of Census Bureau and National Center for Education Statistics data on enrollments by age. The Data The primary source of data used in this analysis is the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey. The CPS is a monthly survey of a national sample of about 50,000 U.S. households used to gather data on employment and unemployment. The survey is limited to the civilian, noninstitutional population, and thus excludes persons in military service, correctional facilities and other institutional facilities. In the October CPS the education supplement is used to gather data on school enrollment of the population. In the March CPS another supplement gathers information on the educational attainment of the population. Data examined here rely mainly on the October CPS for school enrollment by age. Our main focus in this analysis is on undergraduate enrollments by age. These data were originally gathered for a presentation to the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) at their fall 2001 conference recently held in Orlando. However, available data from Census invite a broader look at adult enrollment and education. Thus some of the data examined here includes broader measures of school enrollment for those age 18 and over. Specifically, besides undergraduate enrollment, some younger adults are still completing high school, and many older adults are enrolled as graduate students. A fourth category of adult education reported by the Census Bureau but not explored in detail here are adults taking vocational courses in a non-school setting. Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY 1

2 This analysis includes unique state-level analyses of undergraduate enrollment for students age 25 years and over. These data are for fall Here, with the assistance of Kim Mergenthaler at CAEL, we have used data on undergraduate enrollment by age 25 years and over from the fall 1998 IPEDS enrollment survey, and combined these data with Census Bureau estimates of state population in these same IPEDS age ranges. The results are undergraduate enrollment rates for each state by age range and gender. This is something OPPORTUNITY subscribers have requested in the past, and that we are pleased to now be able to provide. School Enrollment Rates by Age The chart on page 1 of this issue of OPPORTUNITY shows school enrollment rates by age group between 18 and 34 years for the years from 1950 through For those 18 to 19 years, enrollment rates increased from 29.4 percent in 1950 to 61.2 percent by For those 20 to 21 years, school enrollment rates increased from 18.8 percent in 1959 to 44.1 percent in For those 22 to 24 years, enrollment rates grew from 8.6 percent in 1959 to 24.6 percent by For people 25 to 29 years, school enrollment rates increased from 3.0 percent in 1950 to 11.4 percent in For people 30 to 34 years, enrollment rates increased from 1.1 percent in 1952 to 6.7 percent in Clearly, at every age, school enrollment rates have increased greatly over the last five decades. But different population groups have had quite different experiences. Take, for example, males and females. Gender. We have long held that men and women are living on different planets, despite their brother-sisterhood. The chart on this page shows school enrollment rates for men for the last five decades. It differs sharply from the equivalent chart for females on the following page. Between 1950 and 2000 the enrollment rate for males ages 18 to 19 years increased from 35.7 percent in 1950 to 58.3 percent by 2000, an increase of 22.6 percent. For males 20 to 21 years, the enrollment rate increased from 28.3 percent in 1959 to 41.0 percent by 2000, an increase of 12.7 percent. At 22 to 24 years, enrollment rates increased from 13.7 percent in 1959 to 23.9 percent by 2000, or by 10.2 percent. At 25 to 29 years, enrollment rates increased from 5.9 percent in 1950 to 10.0 percent in 2000, or by 4.1 percent. At 30 to 34 years, enrollment rates increased from 1.7 percent in 1952 to 5.6 percent in 2000, or by 3.9 percent. For males the effects of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s are particularly pronounced on younger males between the ages of 18 and 21 years. During that War, military conscription combined with exemption for full-time college enrollment brought many young males into college. This bulge in their enthusiasm for college lasted only until the military draft was ended in Thereafter males enrollment rates fell back to pre-war levels. At both the 18 to 19 and 20 to 21 year old age ranges, school enrollment rates were higher during the peak of the Vietnam War than they were in There must be something about war that focuses the male mind on the advantages of college enrollment. Quite interesting is the peak in school enrollment for males ages 25 to 29 and 30 to 34 years in the late 1970s, well after the War was over and the draft had ended. Apparently many males encouraged to enroll in college during the War remained in college long after the War was over. Among 25 to 29 and 30 to 34 year old males, enrollment rates were greater in the late 1970s than they were in Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY 2

3 For women a quite different pattern emerges between 1950 and 2000, as shown in the chart on the following page. The growth in enrollment rates is steadier, not apparently influenced by the Vietnam war, and far greater for women than it was for men over the last five decades. Among 18 to 19 year old women, enrollment rates increased from 24.3 percent in 1950 (18.5 percent in 1947), to 64.2 percent by 2000, an increase of 39.9 percent (compared to an increase of 22.6 percent for men). Among 20 to 21 year old women, enrollment rates increased from 11.1 to 47.3 percent between 1959 and 2000, an increase of 36.2 percent (compared to an increase of 12.7 percent for men). Among women 22 to 24 years old, enrollment rates increased from 4.4 to 25.3 percent between 1959 and 2000, an increase of 20.9 percent (compared to an increase of 10.2 percent for men). Among women 25 to 29 years old, enrollment rates increase from 0.4 percent in 1950 to 12.7 percent in 2000, an increase of 12.3 percent (compared to an increase of 4.1 percent for men). Among women 30 to 34 years old, enrollment rates increased from 0.7 percent in 1952 to 7.7 percent in 2000, an increase of 7.0 percent (compared to an increase of 3.9 percent for men). The progress of women in school enrollments over the last 50 years is simply stunning. At each of these five age groupings, enrollment rates for women moved from well behind those of men to well ahead of those of men during the last 50 years. This is a profoundly significant change, one that we have drawn attention to often since 1995 in these pages of OPPORTUNITY. It is a change we barely understand, whose meaning we seem currently oblivious to, that will permanently alter the way we live. Race/ethnicity. The Census Bureau has collected and reports school enrollment rates by age for the major racial/ethnic groups (with gender breakdowns): whites, blacks and Hispanics (since 1972). In the last few years the Census Bureau has begun adding reporting categories: white non-hispanic (since 1993), black non-hispanic (since 1993) and Asian and Pacific Islander (since 1999). The data for blacks from 1947 through 1966 are for blacks and other races. The data for whites is very similar to the chart on page 1 of this issue of OPPORTUNITY. It is not reproduced here because of space limitations. However, the larger minority populations--blacks and Hispanics--remain of vital public interest. Their growing share of the U.S. population means that they will replace the declining share of the population that is white. Because whites are far better educated than blacks or Hispanics, rapid and substantial gains in minority education attainment are vital to sustaining the human capital economy now driven disproportionately by college-educated whites. The charts on page 5 shows school enrollment rates by age for blacks and Hispanics. The picture for blacks is one of long-term and very substantial increases in school enrollment rates at each age group. The 2000 data are at or very close to record high enrollment rates, thus indicating that progress continues to be made. For Hispanics there is less progress shown, and during most of the 1990s enrollment rates for Hispanics age 18 to 21 have been declining following increases in the 1970s and 1980s. Other Hispanics, particularly between the ages of 22 and 24 years, continued to make progress in school enrollments during the 1990s however. Space does not permit presentation of all of the available data on school enrollment rates by race/ethnicity for each of the older age cohorts for all years in the time series. But to highlight these data for one year we have summarized the data for each racial/ethnic group reported by the Census Bureau in the following table: Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY 3

4 School Enrollment Rates in 2000 by Age and Race/Ethnicity White White-nH Black Black-nH Asian/PI Hispanic At each age level, Asian/Pacific Islanders have the highest enrollment rates, and Hispanics have the lowest. Enrollment rates for whites are higher than those for blacks between the ages of 18 and 21 years, but black enrollment rates are higher than those for whites between 22 and 34 years. Undergraduate Enrollment by Age In October 2000 there were 12,399,000 undergraduates enrolled in American colleges and universities according to the Census Bureau. They were distributed by age according to the top pie chart on this page. Undergraduate enrollment begins early. About 1.2 percent of those 16 to 17 years old are enrolled in college as undergraduate students. Over half of all undergraduate students--55 percent--were age 21 or less. Another 27 percent were 22 to 29 years old. The remaining 18 percent were 30 and over. A decade earlier, in 1990, there were 11,108,000 undergraduates enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. They were distributed by age according to the bottom pie chart on this page. Between 1990 and 2000 the age distribution of undergraduates shifted only slightly. The share of undergraduates age 21 or less increased by 1.5 percent between 1990 and The share of undergraduates age 22 to 29 increased by 0.6 percent. The share of undergraduates age 30 and over decreased by 2.1 percent between 1990 and At age 18 years and over, not all students are undergraduates, as shown in the first chart on the following page for October At age 18 to 19, 72.4 percent of those enrolled in school were undergraduate college students. At that age, 26.9 percent were still enrolled below college. But 0.5 percent were already enrolled in graduate school too. By age 20 to 21, 93.3 percent of school enrollments were undergraduate students. An additional 4.4 percent were still enrolled below college, and an additional 2.3 percent were now in graduate school. By age 22 to 24, 77.4 percent of school enrollments were undergraduates. About 1.8 percent of enrolled students were enrolled below college, and 20.9 percent were now in graduate school. By age 25 to 29, 61.3 percent of enrolled students were undergraduates. Interestingly, 3.3 percent were enrolled below college (up from 1.8 percent of those 22 to 24) percent were enrolled in graduate school. At age 30 to 34, just 57.4 percent of those enrolled in school were undergraduates. 3.7 percent were enrolled below college, and 38.9 percent were enrolled in graduate schools. The second chart on this page shows undergraduate enrollment rates by age. This is the proportion of the U.S. population enrolled in school as undergraduate students. Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY 4

5 Clearly undergraduate enrollment rates are highest between the ages of 18 and 21 years. In October 2000, more than 40 percent of the U.S. population was enrolled in college as undergraduates. A decade earlier, in October 1990, there was a similar pattern in enrollment rates. However, between 1990 and 2000 the growth in undergraduate enrollment rates was greatest between the ages of 20 and 24 years. Undergraduate enrollment rates for the age 30 years and over barely changed between 1990 and Gender. In October 2000 undergraduate enrollment rates by gender are shown in the first chart on the following page. At all age ranges--except 22 to 24 years--enrollment rates for women were greater than were those for men, often by substantial margins. This gender difference is greatest in the 18 to 19 and 20 to 21 year old cohorts. At age 18 to 19, the undergraduate enrollment rate for women exceeded the male rate by 12.1 percentage points. By ages 20 to 21, the enrollment rate for women exceeded the male rate 6.9 percent. We have written often in these pages about the growing disparity between the performance of males and females throughout the education pipeline. These data are another illustration of this disparity. Between 1990 and 2000 undergraduate enrollment rates for young adult males actually declined, but increased sharply for females. Between ages 22 to 24 years male undergraduate enrollment rates increased between 1990 and 2000, but by less than they did for women: Male Female % +6.1% % +7.1% % +3.6% % +0.6% % -0.1% The pattern suggested in the above data is that the women "get it" earlier than do the men. (Or, as mothers say: boys mature later.) Women appear to engage in undergraduate education sooner after high school than do the men. They complete it sooner than the men do, and thus by age 30 to 34 male undergraduate enrollment rates have risen while they have declined for women. Race/ethnicity. The four major racial/ethnic groups reported by the Census Bureau tend to show distinctive patterns in undergraduate enrollment by age, as shown in the two charts on this page. Asian and Pacific Islanders have by far the highest undergraduate enrollment rates between ages 18 and 29, but then have the lowest thereafter. In October percent of Asian/PI's age 18 and 19 were enrolled as undergraduates, and at ages 20 to 21 years 62.2 percent were still enrolled. White non-hispanics had the second highest rates, at 49.1 percent for year olds, and 47.1 percent for year olds. Blacks have the third highest undergraduate enrollment rates between 18 and 21 years, at 35.6 percent for those 18 to 19, and 31.5 percent for those 20 to 21 years. However, from age 30 and on blacks are more likely to be enrolled as undergraduates than is any other group. Through age 30 Hispanics are least likely to be enrolled in college as undergraduates. At age 18 to 19, 27.3 percent are enrolled, at age 20 to percent are enrolled, and at 22 to 24 years 13.9 percent are in college as undergraduate students. Enrollment Status. Undergraduate enrollment status--whether full-time or part-time--is strongly related to age. Younger undergraduates, between 18 and 24, are most likely to be enrolled on a full-time basis. Beyond age 30 undergraduates are most likely to be enrolled part-time, as shown in the top chart on this page. This shift from full-time to part-time college attendance is clearly related to the opportunity costs of college attendance. Life gets complicated as young adults move through their twenties. Time available to devote to college Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY 5

6 diminishes as careers and families are started, and financial obligations dictate priorities. This makes higher education's ability to capture students while they are young critical to the success of the education enterprise. Institutional control. Overall about 80 percent of undergraduate college students are enrolled in public institutions. The public institution share of undergraduate enrollments at each age level remains close to this figure, dipping slightly toward privates between the ages of 20 and 21 years, as shown in the bottom chart on this page. Above age 25 between 83 and 88 percent of undergraduate enrollments are in public institutions. Institutional level. Most students at the undergraduate level are enrolled in four-year institutions. This is particularly true of undergraduate students between the ages of 20 and 24 years where more than three quarters are enrolled in four-year institutions. Above age 35, however, about half of all undergraduate students are enrolled in two-year colleges. Employment. College enrollment has always been in stiff competition with the labor market and other adult pursuits. Eventually college loses out to these alternatives. And as the data in the second chart on this page show, most students try to do both at the same time. At age 18 to 19, half of all college students were also working at least part-time. The employment rate among college students 20 to 21 years rose to 60 percent. Two-thirds of college students 22 to 24 years also had jobs. By ages 25 to 29 years, three-quarters of college students were working, and over half of college students were working full-time by then also. Vocational courses. In addition to these institution-based (school) enrollments, other adults are also taking vocational courses in non-school settings. These too are age-related. Vocational course enrollment rates by age cohort in October 2000 were as follows: years 1.3% years 3.2% years 2.9% years 2.2% years 1.6% 65 years and over 0.5% Vocational course taking increased with educational attainment in 2000: not high school graduate 0.5% high school graduate only 1.5% some college 2.8% bachelor's or more 2.8% At most age levels, vocational course-taking rates were greater among those employed part-time than they were among those employed full-time: Full-time Part-time % 1.9% % 3.5% % 3.7% % 2.3% % 2.0% % 0.9% Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY 6

7 Older Undergraduate Enrollment by State This analysis of college enrollments by age was first suggested by Dr. Thomas Flint of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) in Chicago. CAEL was especially interested in older undergraduate enrollment rates by state. During the course of development of data reported here, CAEL and OPPORTUNITY jointly examined enrollment rates by state for undergraduates by gender and age 25 years and over. One of the results of that joint effort is the chart on this page of undergraduate enrollment rates of state populations between the ages of 25 and 29 years. This analysis combined age data on undergraduate enrollments by state reported in the fall 1998 IPEDS enrollment survey, with Census Bureau data on state population estimates by age and gender as of July 1, This combination produced a large Excel workbook available on our website (www.postsecondary.org) of undergraduate college enrollment rates by state and gender for the following age intervals: 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, and The population and enrollment data used to calculate the rates are shown in each state's spreadsheet. For 25 to 29 year olds, undergraduate enrollment rates in 1998 ranged from 1.7 percent in Connecticut to 7.0 percent in Montana. The regional patterns in this ranking are clear and striking. The 13 states with the highest enrollment rates for undergraduates are all western states. The states with the lowest enrollment rates are all New England or mid-atlantic states. We have no simple explanation for these regional differences. Always observed higher education enrollments occur at the intersection of student demand and institutional supply curves. Or, higher education enrollments are never more or less than the limiting factor of the number of students seeking enrollment and institutions willing and able to enroll them. Causal explanations remain for future research. The data on college enrollment rates have shown remarkable growth over the last 50 years. Every demographic group has participated to some degree, some more than others. Given the emergence of college education as vital to individual and social economic success since the early 1970s, this is a record of who is preparing to engage in life's opportunities and who is not. Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY 7

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