Preliminary Understanding of High School Graduates

A Preliminary Understanding of High School Graduation Trends Affecting Dallas College Enrollment

The Dallas region is in the midst of many changes—shifts in birth rates, shifts in migration patterns, shifts in racial and ethnic makeup and, of course, changes to the well-being of its residents brought on by COVID-19. The outcomes pr​​​oduced by these trends impact educational decisions, more so for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, many of whom are prospective Dallas College students. For instance, a survey of a nationally representative sample of high school students by America’s Promise Alliance suggests that COVID-19 has influenced post-high school plans of almost 80% of juniors and seniors in the sample; of those, almost 50% of students who changed their postsecondary plans did so due to financial concerns (Flanagan et al., 2021). Data released on college enrollment among high school graduates by the National Student Clearinghouse also indicate immediate college-going, particularly at two-year institutions and among underserved populations, has declined substantially amid the pandemic in several states including Arizona, Kansas, Ohio, and Wisconsin (Carrasco, 2022).

Such national trends motivate closer examination of trends in high school graduation and immediate entry into higher education after high school in Texas and specifically in the Dallas area. While college-going rates for area independent school districts (ISDs) and charter districts are the focus of a forthcoming brief, this one explores longitudinal and projected data on population growth and high school graduation for the state and for counties in the Dallas College service region to contextualize past and present shifts. The brief determines the extent to which graduates in the area enroll in Dallas College to pursue postsecondary credentials. It also considers if COVID-19 has prompted significant migration from public high schools to homeschooling and private schools, in turn, impacting public high school graduation counts in Dallas and surrounding counties.

Using data from the Texas Demographic Center, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and Dallas College, this brief discusses the abovementioned points and illustrates the landscape in which further discourse on college-going rates for Texas and Dallas College will occur through subsequent reports. Findings from this brief will inform internal decision-making within Dallas College, especially for units and divisions engaged with enrollment, recruitment, and dual-credit programming.

Population Landscape in Texas, 2010-2030

Because population growth can increase high school graduation and college-going numbers, a snapshot of the State’s population trends and estimated increases serves as a foundation of analysis. Texas has experienced substantial growth in population in recent years. Using estimates based on the 2010 Census1, the Texas Demographic Center (2021) reports that while Texas makes up about 9% of the total U.S. population, it accounts for a little over 32% of the nation’s total growth from 2019 to 2020. Natural increases due to higher births and lower deaths, as well as domestic and international migration patterns, have contributed to Texas’s population growth across all major demographic groups. The Hispanic population increased most rapidly. Growth in the non-Hispanic White population is projected to plateau following 2030, but growth in the non-Hispanic Black and Asian populations indicates a steady incline. Figure 1 illustrates that the Hispanic population in Texas will surpass the non-Hispanic White population from 2022 onward; by 2030, it will be approximately 12% higher than the non-Hispanic white population.2

Figure 1: Texas Population Projections by Race/Ethnicity, 2010-2030

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Note: Projections from 2018 Sex and Race/Ethnicity Total Population Data Set (Texas Demographic Center, 2018)

The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington Metroplex, the area served by Dallas College, has led in population growth every year among metro regions in the nation since 2016 (Texas Demographic Center, 2021). Figure 2 depicts population growth in counties from which Dallas College students come. Both urban (Dallas and Tarrant) and suburban (Collin and Denton) counties are projected to steadily increase their populations, with slightly steeper rises in Collin and Denton. Contrastingly, rural counties will see very minor growth through 2030. In more affluent socio-economic climates, population growth in specific locales tends to lead to greater high school graduation rates and college-going rates; however, COVID-19 has disrupted these patterns nationally, particularly for postsecondary enrollment (Brown, 2022; Hoover, 2020). The following sections more closely examine the pandemic’s effects on enrollment at Dallas College.

Figure 2: Texas Population Projections by Dallas College Area Counties

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Note: Projections from 2018 Sex and Race/Ethnicity Total Population Data Set (Texas Demographic Center, 2018)

High School Graduation Projections in Texas

Both the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Western Interstate Commission of Higher Education (WICHE) project high school graduation figures (WICHE, 2020, Projections Data; NCES, 2019). Despite differences in their methodologies for estimating the forecasts,3 both sets of estimates depict essentially the same trend in high school graduation counts over time, as shown in Figure 3. While the NCES estimates are slightly more conservative than the WICHE estimates, the overall variation in graduation counts in the times series is relatively equivalent. One feature of the WICHE projections unavailable in the NCES estimates is the consideration of race and ethnicity, which is discussed below.

Figure 3: WICHE v. NCES High School Graduation Counts in Texas: Actual and Projected

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Trends in high school graduation and trends in population projections at the Texas state level are, to some extent, parallel in terms of race and ethnicity. Specifically, Figures 1 and 4 depict similar trends in overall population changes and high school graduation headcounts for White, Hispanic, Black, and Asian demographic groups. For instance, an increasing Hispanic population coincides with an increasing number of high school graduates in this demographic; a leveling of the non-Hispanic White population correlates with a constant trend of graduates from this group; analogous observations can be made about non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic Asian populations.

WICHE, in its most recent projections of high school graduation counts for Texas, illustrates the trends among the major demographic groups through 2030 (see Figure 4; WICHE, 2020). The number of Hispanic graduates is projected to rise through 2026 and then begin to decline. Similar projections are expected for White and Black graduates, yet headcounts for Asian graduates are projected to continue increasing beyond 2030. These trends hold true under the assumption that they will continue based on historical reported counts; social and economic shocks that could potentially disrupt students’ education and influence migration within and across states, such as COVID-19 or natural disasters, are not factored into the calculations due to the limitation of data (Bransberger et al., 2020).4 Consequently, conclusions about the extent to which the pandemic has had an impact on students’ high school graduation outcomes cannot be made from these data.

Figure 4: Texas High School Graduation Headcounts by Race/Ethnicity: Actual and Projected(*), 2005-2030

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Note: Projected headcounts. 2005-2011 counts (WICHE, 2020); 2012-2020 counts (TEA, 2012-2021); 2021-2030 projected counts (WICHE, 2020).

However, general inferences can be drawn regarding the immediate impact of the 2008 recession on high school graduation from the actual counts in the years following the recession. Some research suggests that graduation rates among at-risk students declined at the onset of the recession likely due to declines in academic achievement among students from communities most affected by economic and employment shocks (Mordechay, 2017; Shores & Steinberg, 2019). However, at broader demographic levels, the recession had little to no immediate impact on graduation among Hispanic, Black, or Asian students in the State; in fact, high school completion among Hispanic students rapidly increased through this volatile period. Interestingly, the trend line for Hispanic graduates follows the State trend (Figure 3) almost identically. However, graduation counts among the White population in the state began to decline at the onset of the recession and do not appear to have recovered. How much of this steady decline in Texas is a result of the economic downturn in 2008 is unknown, but at the national level, WICHE concludes that after 2025, the total number of high school graduates will decrease due to declining birth rates during the recession and beyond. Since this reduction in graduates appears to be highest in the White population, further investigation of this demographic will be valuable (Hoover, 2020).

County-level high school graduation projections in Texas through the year 2030 would allow for a more comprehensive trend analysis of high school graduates in the area served by Dallas College; real graduation counts through 2020 could be compared with projected counts for the following 10 years. While these estimates are unavailable at this time, actual graduation counts from 2006-2021 for Dallas College area counties and the number of those graduates who attend the College are worth exploring.

High School Graduates in the Dallas College Region

Essentially all Dallas College students come from school districts located in the following seven counties: Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Kaufman, Rockwall, Collin, and Tarrant. Figure 5 illustrates the total headcounts of high school graduates from these counties from 2006-2021. As the most populated of the seven counties, Dallas County graduates the most students; additionally, it is the county in which the College is located. As a result, the overwhelming majority of Dallas College students are from Dallas County (Figure 5).

Figure 5: High School Graduate Headcounts by Counties in the Dallas College Region

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Note: Statewide county totals from Texas Education Agency (TEA, 2022a; TEA, 2012-2021); counts less than 5 and greater than 0 are excluded from totals.

High School Graduates Entering Dallas College

While immediate college-going is an under-studied area, several studies on the impact of not attending college immediately after high school determine that delayed entry is negatively associated with degree attainment (Andrews, 2018; Roksa & Velez, 2012; Bozick & DeLuca, 2005). For example, two studies, which use survey data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 and the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, find that students who delay postsecondary enrollment are less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree and are more likely than post-high-school-graduation enrollees to transition into adult roles, such as parents, spouses, or employees. The investigations control for various academic and socioeconomic characteristics such as income status, performance on standardized tests, school dropout status, and GED attainment, as well as life course indicators including parenthood, marriage/cohabitation, and employment status and intensity (Bozick & DeLuca, 2005; Roksa & Velez, 2012). Little to no research examining the effects of college entry in the community college space has been conducted, but future studies in this area could expound the effects of the pandemic in addition to exploring the influence of various demographic and background variables pertinent to community college students. The notion that time of entry to college makes a difference in student outcomes necessitates a closer look at the data on immediate entry to Dallas College.

Although Dallas College serves areas beyond Dallas County, with regard to students immediately attending college after high school graduation, the institution almost exclusively enrolls those from Dallas County. The six counties, excluding Dallas County, that are in close proximity to a Dallas College campus are Collin, Denton, Ellis, Kaufman, Rockwall, and Tarrant Counties; however, only 5% to 7% of high school graduates from these counties have entered Dallas College immediately after graduation, as shown in Table 1. In the period from fall 2013 to fall 2020, the percentage of immediate college-going high school graduates entering Dallas College from Dallas County ranged from 93% to 95%.

Immediate enrollment of high school graduates from any county in Dallas College in 2021 indicated a decline by 18% from 2020, which is likely a pandemic effect. Many graduates may have chosen not to enroll immediately in postsecondary education due to various financial, familial, and educational stressors triggered by the pandemic. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (2021), for instance, reports a “pandemic effect” on immediate college enrollment in fall 2020 among high school students graduating in 2020, with the greatest decline in enrollment occurring in high-poverty high schools. In fact, the gap in immediate college enrollment between high- and low-poverty high schools was 28% in fall 2020; 73% of graduates from low-poverty schools enrolled in postsecondary institutions in the fall, while only 45% of graduates from high-poverty schools enrolled. Furthermore, the gap-year enrollment rate for fall 2021 among 2020 high school graduates who did not immediately enroll in fall 2020 decreased from the previous year.

Recent reports on national college enrollment trends suggest pandemic effects have particularly reduced overall enrollment among Hispanic students (Brown, 2022), who constitute nearly half of the student body at Dallas College. Interestingly, although the immediate enrollment of high school graduates in Dallas College from fall 2020 to fall 2021 decreased across the four major racial and ethnic groups, the enrollment decline among Hispanic students was the lowest. Decreases in the immediate college enrollment rate in Dallas College during this period were -6% for Hispanic students, -11% for Asian students, -12% for White students, and -22% for Black students.5

Table 1: Number of Area High School Graduates Entering Dallas College Immediately by County6

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Fall EntryDallas CountyCollin, Denton, Ellis, Kaufman, Rockwall, & Tarrant Counties

Note: 2013-2020 data from THED High School Graduates Enrolled in Higher Education the Following Fall Report (THED, 2013-2020); 2021 total entry count of high school graduates to Dallas College (Dallas College, n.d.).

Impact of COVID-19 on Public and Charter High School Leavers

The pandemic has changed the landscape of K-12 education in the U.S., as unprecedented numbers of students have left public and charter school classrooms for alternative methods of schooling. This has led to heightened interest in K-12 and postsecondary circles regarding whether flight from public and charter high schools to homeschooling and private schooling has affected graduation numbers in these state-funded secondary institutions. The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey (Eggleston & Fields, 2021), for instance, shows statistically significant increases in homeschooling across all racial and ethnic backgrounds nationwide from spring of 2020 to fall of 2020. Furthermore, a 7.8% overall rise in homeschooling in Texas from the beginning of May 2020 to early October 2020 was also statistically significant. However, the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington Metro area experienced only a 2.4% growth in homeschooling during this period, which was not a statistically significant change. This implies that the majority of the growth in homeschooling has occurred in other parts of Texas and not in the Dallas College service region.7

It is also worth considering in which K-12 grade levels most of the exodus to homeschooling has occurred to better determine the extent to which leavers may be impacting public and charter high school graduation counts; is transition to homeschooling a trend primarily in elementary grades, in secondary grades, or across both levels? It is difficult to know such variations since the Texas Education Agency (TEA) reports annual leavers data for grades 7 through 12 only. If leavers data for grades K-6 were reported, researchers would be able to accurately determine if students at the primary grade levels were leaving to home school more than students at the secondary grade levels. Nonetheless, trends in the data for grades 9-12 suggest a general difference between leavers in primary and middle schools and in high schools. Figure 6 depicts leavers to home school from high school grades in both public and charter school districts prior to and immediately after the onset of the pandemic (school years 2018-2020) in the counties served by Dallas College. Although Dallas County had the greatest number of leavers to homeschooling during the three-year period, the ratio of leavers to the County’s total high school enrollment for each school year is minuscule; the percent of leavers to total enrollment in Dallas County is 1.7% for 2017-2018, 0.9% for 2018-2019, and 0.6% for 2019-2020. Ironically, for several counties, COVID-19 prompted a decline in student migration from public and charter high schools to homeschooling in 2020 compared to trends in the previous two years (note on private school leavers in the Appendix shows analogous patterns). This implies that the little growth in homeschooling in the Metroplex as a result of the pandemic may have occurred primarily in grades K-7.

Upon availability from the TEA, high school grade-level leaver data for both public and charter districts for school year 2021 could provide greater clarity on the pandemic’s impact on leavers from high schools in Dallas and surrounding counties. In the meantime, researchers can generally conclude, as evidenced by the Pulse Survey (Eggleston & Fields, 2021), that migration to homeschooling in the first stage of COVID-19 has not significantly obstructed high school enrollment or graduation numbers in the Dallas region. A shift from in-person schooling to a virtual environment during the height of the pandemic likely formed pseudo-homeschooling spaces for students and eliminated the need to exit from public and charter schools.

Figure 6: Leavers to Home School at End of Spring Term by County

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Note: 2018-2020 leaver data from Texas Education Agency (TEA, 2017-2018, 2022b; TEA, 2018-2019, 2022c; TEA, 2019-2020, 2022d); aggregated by grades 9-12; includes charter schools.

Next Steps

Understanding the link between anticipated high school graduates in the Dallas College region, how many of those will come to the Institution, and the extent to which the pandemic has influenced and will influence this process is a complex undertaking. According to available data, COVID-19 has not significantly affected public and charter high school enrollment and, therefore, has not impacted graduation counts from these institutions. Whether or not this percentage increased with the continuation of the pandemic can be determined when more current leavers data from 2021 are released by the TEA. While it is anticipated that the pandemic will impact secondary and postsecondary student outcomes, the data will not reflect these effects for several years (Seltzer, 2020).

Figure 7: Dallas County High School Data: Headcounts of Graduates and Entrants to Dallas College

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Note: Total number of high school graduates from Texas Education Agency (2012-2021). 2021 counts of graduates entering Dallas College (Dallas College, n.d.).

Figure 7 summarizes trends occurring among Dallas County high school graduates and entrants to Dallas College. The immediate college-going rates depict that approximately one-fifth of Dallas County high school graduates enter Dallas College in the fall directly after spring graduation. While this rate has slightly fluctuated during the eight-year period captured in the figure (even increasing to one-quarter in 2019), there appears to be a gradual decline in the immediate college-going rate post-2019, which is likely due to COVID-19 and its negative impact on students’ decisions to attend college. Although high school graduation numbers in 2020 and 2021 did not decrease considerably, college entry shows to have declined in greater proportion. Next steps in the research are to longitudinally examine immediate college-going rates in the Dallas College region with more granular, district-level data to determine variances in entry to Dallas College, entry to other in-state institutions, and no immediate college entry.