High school graduates choose jobs and turn away from college

Harriett Torry

More high-school grad­u­ates are be­ing di­verted from col­lege cam­puses by brighter prospects for blue-col­lar jobs in a his­tor­i­cally strong la­bor mar­ket for less-ed­u­cated work­ers.

The col­lege en­roll­ment rate for re­cent U.S. high-school grad­u­ates, ages 16 to 24, de­clined to 62% last year from 66.2% in 2019, just be­fore the pan­demic be­gan, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est La­bor De­part­ment data. The rate topped out at 70.1% in 2009.

Job growth at restau­rants, theme parks and other parts of the leisure and hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor—which tend to em­ploy young peo­ple and typ­i­cally don’t re­quire a col­lege de­gree—has in­creased more than twice as fast as job gains over­all in the past year. There also re­mains a high num­ber of job open­ings in con­struc­tion, man­u­fac­tur­ing and ware­hous­ing, fields that of­ten re­quire ad­di­tional train­ing, but not col­lege de­grees.