One of the most widely cited sources of comprehensive and reliable data on the future size and composition of high school graduating classes throughout the nation, WICHE’s ninth edition of Knocking at the College Door: Projections of High School Graduates (December 2016) examines data on public and private schools and projects the number of high school graduates for the nation, four geographic regions, the 50 states, and the District of Columbia. And, for the first time, WICHE also includes projections for Guam and Puerto Rico. Knocking also presents projections for public high school graduates, disaggregated by race/ethnicity.
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The overall number of high school graduates will plateau for most of the next decade with 7 of the 10 years from 2013 to 2023 expected to see fewer or about the same number of graduates compared to 2013, which was the year with highest recorded number of U.S. graduates yet. While the country is projected to see three years of growth between 2024 and 2026, this will be a short- term increase as the average size of graduating classes between 2027 and 2032 is expected to be smaller than those in 2013.
The racial/ethnic mix of high school graduates in the United States will continue to shift significantly toward a more diverse population of graduates fueled primarily by large increases in the number of Hispanic (50 percent) and Asian/Pacific Islander (30 percent) public high school graduates through about 2025. The pending national plateau is largely fueled by a decline in the White student population and counterbalanced by growth in the number of non-White public school graduates – Hispanics and Asian/ Pacific Islanders in particular. Overall, there will be consistent declines in the number of White public high school graduates and robust growth in the number of public high school graduates of color (or, technically speaking, "non-White" graduates) in the coming years.
There is significant regional variation with the Northeast and the Midwest experiencing continuing declines in the number of high school graduates while the West will see slight increases and the South will see significant and steady increases. Most notably, the South is the engine of growth for high school graduates. It is the only region that is projected to experience an increase in the number of high school graduates for every year of the projections, even though that number is expected to contract after 2025.
The number of students graduating from private high schools will decline more sharply than the decreases in the overall numbers of graduates. The number of high school graduates from private religious and nonsectarian schools is projected to decline at an even greater rate than the overall trend, from 302,000 in 2011 to about 220,000 by the early 2030s – a decrease of 80,000 graduates, or 26 percent.