Every year in October, the Bureau of Labor Statistics gathers information on college enrollment and workforce participation; every April, the “College Enrollment and Work Activity of Recent High School and College Graduates” report, based on that data, is released. This year’s report shows that the pandemic has impacted young Americans’ future planning pretty dramatically.

  • 61.8% of 2021’s high school graduates enrolled in college. That’s consistent with the class of 2020 but a drop of almost 5% from 2019.
  • Women are enrolling in college at much higher rates than men. 69.5% of women ages 16-24 who’ve graduated from high school have enrolled in college, compared with just 54.9% of men. Last year saw an increase in enrollments for women and a decrease in enrollments for men compared with the previous year.
  • College students are less likely to work while attending school, whether they attend full-time or part-time. Just over half of part-time students worked in 2021, compared with about 3/4 in 2019. Full-time students, who make up about 90% of college students, were less likely to work: just 33% were labor force participants.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the report was who benefited most from the tight labor market. The unemployment rate for recent associates degree earners dropped to 4.5%. For advanced degree holders, the unemployment rate was even lower: 2.6%. For bachelor’s degree holders, the story was different: 13.1% of bachelor’s degree holders between the ages of 20-29 were unemployed– a significant increase from 2019’s 8.8% unemployment rate.

Does that mean that a college degree is becoming less desirable in the workforce? Not likely. As this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows, shows, the overall unemployment rate for those with college degrees remains lower than for all other segments of the workforce.

Plus, young adults are disproportionately represented in one of the groups whose employment has been most impacted by the pandemic: parents of young children.

On a more positive note, current recruiting and hiring trends seem to be pointing towards better opportunities for current students: Many colleges report 90+% employment or graduate school attendance rates among the class of 2021 and significant increases in internship availability. Unfortunately, national data lags college press releases.