Parental Educational Attainment by Race/Ethnicity

Insight

Many projections of the demographic forecasts underlying colleges’ enrollment planning include trend lines in the changing racial/ethnic mix of the population nationally or regionally. But a primary determinant of college-attendance rates is parental educational level, and educational attainment rates vary significantly by race/ethnic segments of college-age students. Enrollment projections and forecasts need to be informed by both racial/ethnic diversity and varying levels of parental educational attainment simultaneously.

Within Race Distribution of Students Age 15 to 17 by Parent Education Attainment Census ACS PUMS
parental education attainment data chart

Analysis

Drawing upon U.S. Census and American Community Survey data in the public domain, parental educational attainment levels for college-age youth are differentiated by and compared across racial/ethnic groups. These charts show and compare that distribution in parental educational attainment for various racial/ethnic groups (and also for all students in the lower right chart). Levels of educational attainment increase from left to right, with ‘no college’ on the furthest left bar of each chart to ‘two masters’ on the furthest right. The visual differences in the proportionate distribution of parental educational attainment by racial/ethnic group is striking.

Application

The enrollment projection process at colleges and universities has long been informed by simple and straightforward demographic forecasts of the changing size of the college-age population, often looking at varying trajectories in the underlying racial/ethnic composition of the national or regional population. Given that a prospective student’s likelihood of attending any college and certainly attending a four-year college of university varies significantly by parental educational attainment, and rates of educational attainment clearly vary across racial/ethnic groups, an

appropriately robust enrollment projection must be guided not only by racial/ethnic diversity but also by parental educational attainment as well. Therefore, HCRC’s approach to enrollment projections and to any assessment of enrollment outcomes has always put a primary emphasis on parental educational level as a factor explaining variability in those outcomes.