Degrees and other credentials beyond high school slip for WA students, estimates show

By: - August 22, 2023 2:15 pm

(Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images)

Fewer Washington students will earn college degrees and other credentials after high school in the next few years, likely due to fallout from the pandemic, according to a new report from Washington Roundtable, a non-profit run by business leaders in the state. 

The report found that only 40% of Washington high school students in the class of 2021 are expected to earn postsecondary credentials — such as a degree, apprenticeship or professional license — by age 26. 

Nearly 70% of all projected job openings in the state require at least some education beyond high school, according to the Washington Student Achievement Council. 

Credential rates steadily increased from the class of 2006 up until the pandemic, the report found. According to state data, only 33% of Washington’s high school class of 2006 earned a postsecondary credential by age 26. By the class of 2019, the percentage was 43%. 

“Nearly a third of the progress made since the class of 2006 was wiped out during the pandemic,” the report said. That’s despite steadily increasing high school graduation rates, which the report attributes to the waiver of some state graduation requirements in 2020, 2021 and 2022. 

The report also found racial, ethnic and income disparities: Only 49% of Native American students from the class of 2021 and 53% of low-income students will enroll in postsecondary education, according to estimates based on historical trends. Although 71% of Black students are expected to enroll in postsecondary education, only 49% are projected to complete it. 

“This indicates that, once enrolled, Black students face additional hurdles or have unique needs that are not being met,” the report said. 

Data analysis in the report also projects that, of the total cohort of students who started ninth grade in the same year, less than a third of Native American, Black and Hispanic/Latino students will complete a credential by age 26. Male students are also less likely to progress through each step of a credential attainment program than female students. 

In order to meet workforce demands and increase postsecondary credentialing, the report calls on the state to continue taking steps to boost high school graduation rates, postsecondary enrollment and re-engagement for students who drop off the pathway to degrees and other credentials. 

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Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng joined the Washington State Standard shortly after graduating from Northwestern University in June 2023. Grace, who currently lives in Tacoma, is a local Washingtonian who was born and raised in Snohomish County. She has previous experience covering statehouse politics and policy for the Minnesota Reformer and the USA TODAY Ohio Network, which includes the Columbus Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Akron-Beacon Journal.