The days of ever-increasing numbers of US high-school graduates are over

Save the last dance.
Save the last dance.
Image: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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In 2013, America churned out a record 3.5 million high school graduates—a figure that now is now set to stagnate for the next decade.

Students graduating from high school increased 30% from 1995 to 2013, leading the US’s higher education industry to also expand. But that boom is leveling out, according to new research from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education today. The number of new grads isn’t expected to climb for the next seven years, and even then, the uptick won’t be major.

So what does that mean for colleges and universities? For one thing, the US’s 4,140 two- and four-year schools are going to have to work harder to lure new students. They “can no longer rely on an ever-increasing pool of high school graduates to fill their classrooms” and will have to rethink how to sell themselves, notes Peace Bransberger, a research analyst who co-authored the report. Such changes could lead to promising improvements in education offerings.

For another: while the high-school graduate pool may be at a standstill, the makeup of that population is shifting rapidly. The number of Hispanic and Asian students from public schools will soar, for example, increasing 50% and 30% through 2025, respectively. White students and private-school-educated students are both set to decrease—changes that are coming out of broader shifts in the US’s demographics.

In education, there is often a lot of talk about “closing the gap,” or making sure students of all backgrounds can achieve the same academic success. For the next few years, as high-school grads plateau and minority numbers rise, colleges—already struggling with racial and social problems on their campuses in recent years—will be forced to confront that matter head-on.