April 2023 Newsletter: How Washington’s college enrollment ranks nationally

Seattle students in graduation robes.

Director’s Note

The work to turn the tide on postsecondary credential attainment is not just a battle I wage when I’m at work. The frontline is also in my own home with my rising high school senior. He is underwhelmed at the idea of continuing his education after high school and I’m overwhelmed at the idea of my male student of color not having a credential in today’s world. While we don’t have a perfect solution, we have found a path forward that aligns our education goals as a family.

And, as I reflect on our education system as a whole, I believe we have a responsibility to ensure every student has a clear path forward. How do we connect the education continuum from birth to meaningfully employed? How do we build a bridge so that students can easily transition between K-12 and postsecondary pursuits into apprenticeships, certificates, and two- and four-year degrees? How do we ensure students are engaged and feel the time spent in education is relevant to their futures?

The answer to those questions largely depends on our behavior as the humans that power the systems. You’ve heard it said that it takes a village. What’s the systemic village we can build for our students? It’s no surprise that I have opinions after almost 30 years in education, but there is more value in the collective. I look forward to unpacking thoughts and ideas with you and moving into action.

Angela Jones
Director, Washington State Initiative

Washington’s college-going rates are dropping

College enrollment fell sharply during pandemic.

Only 50% of Washington’s high school graduates in 2021 enrolled in a two- or four-year institution within a year of high school graduation, according to a new Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) report. That’s a 9 percentage point drop from 2019. That falls to 40% for Latino students, which is a 14 percentage point drop.

How WA ranks: Enrollment numbers in Washington are much lower than the national average. In 2020, about 63% of high school graduates nationwide were enrolled in college by the fall. In Washington state, enrollment was 51% in 2020. (We don’t have national data yet for 2021.)

Why it matters: Nearly 90% of Washington’s high schoolers say they want to pursue a postsecondary program after graduation. We must do more to help young people reach their postsecondary aspirations.

WA college-going rate dropped sharply during pandemic

Increased enrollment in Spokane’s community colleges

SFCC banners reading "You Belong Here!" and "We're Here for You!"

The number of students at community colleges has fallen 37% nationwide since 2010. As The Hechinger Report highlighted in a story that featured local student Santos Enrique Camara, the reasons for this decline vary – but confusing processes and a lack of personal support play a big role. However, at both community colleges in Spokane, enrollment is up.

What’s working: Spokane Community College president Kevin Brockbank notes that many of their students have to also prioritize work and family, so the college provides mental health services, counseling, and emergency grants to support them. These services go a long way.

Why it matters: According to state data, nearly half of all students at Washington’s community and technical colleges are students of color, and 60% experience hunger and housing insecurity. These colleges must ensure they’re supporting students from enrollment through completion.

As community colleges struggle nationally, Spokane community colleges don’t have similar struggle

Community Engagement Spotlight: National Volunteer Month

Seattle volunteers.

April is National Volunteer Month, a great time for nonprofits to recognize their volunteers and for community members to explore volunteer opportunities. Our Community Engagement team reached out to local grantees to learn about their volunteer needs.

Local volunteerism: The Greater Seattle region consistently ranks among the top five metro areas nationally in volunteer time given, but the pandemic impacted local volunteer rates. As The Seattle Times highlighted, the number of adults in Seattle who volunteered in the past 12 months dropped by 10 percentage points the last three years.

Why it matters: Local nonprofits rely on volunteers to keep their programs running, and many have seen increased demand due to rising food and housing costs.

Local organizations looking for volunteers

Student Voice: Why are Washington students skipping college?

Pie charts for enrollment factors: Diverse and Disengages, Anxiously Eager, Positive Parents, Gen-Z Skeptics, and Alienated Avoiders

Washington state students want to pursue a post-high school education, so why aren’t they? Washington Roundtable and Partnership for Learning asked 800 young adults in Washington who didn’t enroll in college this question.

What they found: Many young people have concerns about the cost of college. Others want access to more hands-on learning opportunities. And many needed to earn money now and don’t believe they could work and finish a degree. These findings mirror a study that the Gates Foundation funded last fall.

Why it matters: We can’t develop solutions if we don’t understand student aspirations and barriers. That’s why our new Washington State strategy will focus on helping regions better collect student feedback and uncover student perspectives.

Why Washingtonians Value Credentials But Aren’t Completing Them

Give local teachers some love!

A theatre performance featuring student actors.

Teacher Appreciation Week is coming up in May! Last year, we received an amazing story about Ruth Veselka, drama teacher for the West Valley School District. Do you have a Washington state teacher that you think is worth celebrating? Let us know.

Your Questions, Answered.

Every month, we’ll answer your questions about our Washington state work.

Q: When will you be launching the regional learning networks?

A: We expect to send out an open invitation to join our learning network in early summer. Through the learning network, we will bring together practitioner leaders who are leading the implementation of programs and local institutional policies that support students’ transitions from high school to postsecondary. That includes college and career readiness district directors, higher education enrollment staff, and nonprofit organizations providing advising and other college and career guidance support. We’re still figuring out details, and once we have all of our questions answered, we plan to do plenty of outreach to make sure leaders and community members are aware of the opportunity.

Got Additional Questions?

Do you have questions about our new education strategy in Washington state? You can submit them here. We’ll continue to answer the most-asked questions in future editions.

What We’re Reading

Read next

March 2023 Newsletter: Meet some of the women shaping education in WA

Reflecting on Women’s History Month alongside state education and local nonprofit leaders.

February 2023 Newsletter: What Black History Month means to me

Black History Month is a time of reverence, homage, and celebration.

January 2023 Newsletter: New year with a new strategy

You’re probably wondering: what’s next for our work? We’re figuring out the best way for the foundation to launch and support a learning network focused on postsecondary enrollment.