June 1, 2023

The Students Who Aren't Coming: An Alarming Disparity in College Aspirations


Jose Flores

The article titled "The Students Who Aren't Coming" discusses the results of a survey conducted by YouthTruth, which reveals a significant gap between high school seniors' desire to attend college and their belief in actually enrolling. The survey data highlights a particular mismatch among male, Black, and Latino students. Community colleges, traditionally serving low-income and minority students, are also facing a decline in enrollment expectations, from 25 percent in 2019 to 20 percent in 2023. This decline, coupled with the underrepresentation of Black students, raises concerns about equity in higher education. There is a worry that students who initially planned to attend community colleges may now forgo college altogether, indicating potential financial barriers to accessing four-year institutions.

A thought-provoking article titled "The Students WhoAren't Coming," penned by Scott Jaschik, recently caught my attention within the realms of Inside Higher Ed. This piece has sparked a flurry of concerns as it sheds light on the outcomes of a survey conducted by YouthTruth, delving into the hopes and expectations of high school seniors. The survey data exposes a substantial divide between students' desires to attend college and their belief in actually enrolling—a mismatch that is particularly pronounced among male, Black, and Latino students.


Diving into the statistics, a disheartening trend emerges, casting a gloomy shadow on community colleges, which could be poised for a challenging year. Historically, these institutions, catering to low-income and minority students, have faced disappointing enrollment figures. However, the survey's findings reveal an unsettling truth: the percentage of students anticipating enrollment in a community college has dwindled from 25 percent in2019 to a mere 20 percent in 2023. Such a decline, coupled with the underrepresentation of Black students within these campuses, fuels serious concerns about the state of equity in higher education.


The survey's revelation regarding the decline in college expectations, specifically among male, Black, and Latino students, holds grave implications for four-year colleges. Of paramount concern is the possibility that a significant number of students who initially intended to attend community colleges may now forego college altogether. This shifting landscape, with students steering away from community colleges, often recognized as more affordable options, intimates that financial obstacles may hinder their pursuit of enrollment in four-year institutions.


One must not underestimate the financial aspect of embarking on a four-year college journey. Many students heavily rely on community colleges as an accessible pathway to higher education, enabling them to fulfill their general education requirements at a lower cost before transitioning to a four-year institution. The decline in community college expectations, particularly among certain student groups, throws up red flags, suggesting that these students might encounter formidable barriers in terms of accessing and affording higher education.


In light of these pressing concerns, it becomes imperative for four-year colleges to proactively address the situation. Implementing measures that preemptively tackle these challenges is crucial. This could encompass expanding the availability of financial aid opportunities, scholarships, and resources tailored to students hailing from low-income backgrounds or underrepresented groups. The ultimate goal is to ensure that financial constraints do not impede deserving students from pursuing their educational aspirations and reaping the rewards that accompany a four-year college degree.

Furthermore, the gender disparities in college aspirations and expectations warrant attention. The numbers are staggering: while a remarkable 83 percent of female students express an ardent desire to attend college, a slightly less confident 77 percent believe they will. In stark contrast, the figures for male students are significantly lower, with a mere 68percent aspiring to pursue higher education and an even bleaker 57 percent confident in their ability to do so. This glaring 11-point disparity between aspiration and expectation for males, compared to a comparatively modest six points for females, necessitates meticulous examination and further exploration.


The report further underscores the stark discrepancies in college aspirations among different racial and ethnic groups. The data brings to the fore the fact that Asian or Asian American students exhibit the highest levels of desire to pursue higher education, with a staggering 90 percent expressing their intention to attend college. On the opposite end of the spectrum, American Indian/Alaska Native/Indigenous students report the lowest percentage, with a meager 58 percent displaying a desire for further education.This striking 32-point disparity underscores the pressing need for targeted support and resources to address the educational aspirations of underrepresented groups.


The troubling decline in community college expectations among male, Black, and Latino students is particularly distressing, aligning with a broader pattern of diminishing Black enrollment at two-year colleges.Shockingly, from 2011 to 2019, Black enrollment plummeted by a staggering 26percent. Adding to the concern, the report highlights that in 2020 alone, Black enrollment witnessed another decline of 100,000 students, bringing the numbers back to levels seen two decades ago. This dire situation demands immediate action and a comprehensive approach to ensure equal access and opportunities for all students.


Moreover, the declining college expectations across the board, especially concerning community colleges, pose a significant apprehension for four-year institutions. The potential shift towards more expensive four-year colleges underscores the need for enhanced support mechanisms, including increased financial assistance, to ensure that students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, have equitable opportunities to pursue higher education without being hindered by overwhelming financial barriers.


The findings of the YouthTruth survey have sparked alarm, shedding light on a troubling disparity in college aspirations and expectations among high school seniors. The data exposes gaps between students' desires to attend college and their confidence in actually enrolling, with male, Black, and Latino students facing the most significant disparities. The decline in community college expectations and the underrepresentation of certain student groups raise serious concerns about equity in higher education. It is crucial for four-year colleges to take proactive measures, such as offering increased financial aid and resources, to ensure that all deserving students have access to the benefits of a four-year college degree. Addressing gender and racial disparities in college aspirations is also imperative, calling for targeted support and resources for underrepresented groups. By taking decisive action, we can strive to create a more inclusive and equitable educational landscape for all students.