September 11, 2015

Class of 2025 expected to be the biggest, most diverse ever

Attention, parents of third graders: If demographic patterns hold, your children could be in the largest U.S. college freshman class ever.

College Enrollment Tracks with the Number of Births 18 Years Earler

That’s because in 2007 U.S. births surpassed 4.3 million – a feat not seen since 1957, when college enrollment was less common. Based on trends today, demographers can make certain assumptions about what share of those children will eventually graduate from high school and go on to college. According to the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE), the high school class of 2025 will be the largest and most ethnically diverse class we’ve ever seen.

This wouldn’t be the first time that colleges and universities have experienced a “college admissions bubble.” The last enrollment peak happened in 2009, when the children of Baby Boomers reached college age (and 18 years after 1991’s 4.1 million births). In addition, the Great Recession encouraged many young adults to ride out the difficult job market by continuing their education.

Since 2009, the number of first-time, full-time freshmen has come down somewhat (from 2.5 million to 2.4 million in 2013).

How can anyone know what college enrollment will look like a decade into the future? No projection is perfect and there are many unforeseen factors, such as the economy’s performance and how successful parents and schools are in getting students to graduate from high school. But generally, the number of first-time, full-time college freshmen tracks closely with the number of births from 18 years earlier.

In the post-recession era, about 70% of high school graduates go on to be first-time, full-time freshmen in either a two- or four-year college.

High School Graduates Increasingly Diverse

Apart from its size, the high school class of 2025 will also look different from today’s incoming college freshmen. Immigration and births of second-generation immigrants are likely to drive up the shares of Hispanic and Asian students.

Over the past two decades, the share of students graduating from public high schools who are white and non-Hispanic has declined dramatically – from 73% in 1995 to 57% in 2012, according to the most recent data available. In that time period the shares that are Hispanic and Asian have grown. WICHE projects that this trend will continue, with the public high school graduating class of 2025 being barely majority white (51%).

Young Hispanics will likely make up a larger share of high school graduates a decade from now, but today they are also the least likely among the major racial and ethnic groups to pursue full-time college enrollment. Another unknown factor for higher education is cost: Tuition has been rising rapidly at public and private universities, and the share of high school graduates in the class of 2025 who elect to pursue college full-time will also depend on how affordable college is and whether students and their families decide college is valuable.

Topics: Education, Generations and Age, Educational Attainment, College, Teens and Youth

  1. Photo of Richard Fry

    is a senior researcher focusing on economics and education at Pew Research Center.


  1. Roger2 years ago

    Maybe you should also mention where these students are heading? Burdened by debt, and clutching their dumbed down degree, the majority will be heading for non graduate employment, where they will spend most of their working life. In the UK, 59.8% are in this category.

  2. Waqar Ahmed2 years ago

    Great insights, thanks. 🙂

  3. Joe Olague2 years ago

    While the number of Latino/Latina students is on the upswing, someone at the Pew Center should be researching the number of Latino professors that will be teaching/educating our Latino community. At the present time, Latino/Latina professors are nowhere near the number to mentor the needs of Latino students to have positive achievement outcomes.
    During my under graduate and post graduate studies, very few were available. Anglos dominated professorship and they continue too. Etc, etc, etc.
    Joe Olague

  4. Joan94942 years ago

    An unprecedented number of college freshmen are incapable of succeeding at college level courses. This joke is perpetrated by morally upright, clueless secondary school employees who 1) fail to educate properly; 2) fail to require remedial education when it’s apparent the student is incapable of grade-level course work and instead — pass, pass, pass; and 3) counsel poorly educated seniors to enter college instead of pursuing vocational education or move straight into hands-on, learn on the job goals.

    The Pew Center is not only an apologist for the pathetic mess created by illegal immigration, it embraces the concomitant failure of the children to complete high school with anything resembling college-ready skill sets as no obstacle to waste of federal low-income college funds on ‘college level’ remedial high school education.

    As a low-income high school student whose parents never finished high school, I was the grateful recipient of federal funds. I scored an 800 on my verbal SAT back in the days when there were no ‘tutors’ and was never even encouraged by my high school counselors to apply for college. I never took a remedial college class in my life.

    Today’s school counselors seem to think their mission in life is to get as many kids as possible to apply to college. Maybe you should examine that conundrum.

    1. The immigrant2 years ago

      What do you mean by “pathetic mess created by illegal immigration”. Did you mean the illegal descendants of most of white people who came illegally here in the first place?