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.