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College enrollment rates decreased for Class of 2020 seniors

Only about half of the Colorado seniors who graduated in 2020 went to college the following semester.

COLORADO, USA — We’ve known the pandemic negatively impacted students of all ages. Now we’re getting our first glimpse at the effect it had on high school students who graduated as the pandemic hit. 

A new report from the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) shows the number of high schoolers going directly into college dropped, a direct result of the pandemic that has state leaders concerned.

Every year, CDHE puts out a report focusing on how high school seniors transition into college. This year, it focuses on one of the most challenging years in recent memory.

Only about half of the graduating seniors in 2020 in Colorado went to college the following semester. That’s down nearly 6% since the previous year.

"Of the high school graduating class of 2020, only 50.5% of those students went to an institution of higher education the fall after they graduated," said Carl Einhaus, who wrote the report with CDHE. "That’s a number that we have concerns about."

Einhaus blames it on the pandemic.

"This absolutely is showing how COVID has had a negative impact on higher education, and all of education really," Einhaus said. "It was not an easy year, and definitely the data from this report shows that it wasn’t easy."

Low-income students were disproportionately impacted, seeing higher drops in college enrollment than those who are wealthier. Students in small rural areas saw the biggest drop. The number of students who went to college right after finishing high school in those districts was 10% lower in 2020 than the year before.

"These are districts that have less than 1,000 students. Their college-going rate dropped by 10%," Einhaus said. "That is of significant concern."

Students often take gap years and then return to school a year or two after finishing college. Einhaus said they’re not seeing that happen at the same rate as before the pandemic.

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