Recently, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) released their annual report on college-going rates across the State (see PARCA's data visualization below). While their headline shows that college-going rates may have overall declined in the face of challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabamians can feel confident in the fact that students pursuing a 4-year Bachelor’s degree has held steady at 30 percent over the last 3 years. Overall, Alabama’s college attendance rate has fallen by 4 percent in the last year, specifically seeing a decrease in attendance at 2-year colleges[i].
This follows national trends as reported by the National Student Clearinghouse, showing that the class of 2020 had an unprecedented decline in immediate college attendance, dropping 6.8 percent nationally[ii].
It is important to recognize the dramatic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the high school class of 2020’s decisions. With their full senior year disrupted by the ongoing tragedies of the pandemic, many felt that the future was as uncertain or faced financial challenges within their family. One national study found that half of all graduating seniors in the class of 2020 have changed their college plans as a result of COVID-19. 40 percent also said their plans for paying for college had been affected[iii].
Alabama High School Graduation and College and Career Readiness
High school graduation rates across Alabama have increased consistently over the past decade, even outpacing national average graduation rates every year since 2014. Further, 80 percent of high school graduates in 2019 scored proficiently on College and Career Readiness measures[iv]. Despite interruptions from COVID, the class of 2020 still saw more than 75 percent of graduates scoring proficiently on College and Career Readiness measures. This leads to the encouraging idea that more of our young people are achieving academic excellence at the K-12 level. While a high school diploma will begin to open doors, our higher education institutions provide opportunities for students to pursue their full potential.
Alabama’s legislative leaders have focused on evidence-based ways to strengthen the K-12 education system. Their work on legislation like the Alabama Literacy Act and Teacher Excellence and Accountability for Mathematics and Sciences (TEAMS) Act in the 2020 legislative session shows their dedication to continuing to enhance education across the state.
While there are still many barriers to college attendance in Alabama, it is encouraging to have seen consistent strong budgets over the last decade. The Higher Education Partnership is grateful to policymakers and State leaders for keeping our universities at the forefront of their minds in identifying opportunities for growth.
The Remaining Challenges Facing College Enrollment
However, cost of college remains a barrier for many in Alabama. The SREB’s recent college affordability profil