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National Data

According to Postsecondary Education Opportunity, 41.8 percent of 9th graders enroll in college by age 19.

The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) provides a state by state analysis of college-going rates of high school graduates, directly from high school, as of 2008.

NCHMES also has state by state data, since 1992 through 2008, on 9th graders chance for college by age 19. Addtionally, NCHMES has state by state data since 1991 through 2009 on the percent of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college, as well as the enrollment figures of 25- to 49-year-olds as a percent of 25- to 49-year-olds with no bachelors degree or higher.

Data Source

Analyzing data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), higher education analyst Thomas Mortenson published this indicator in the Postsecondary Education Opportunity. However, it is available only at the state level. The easiest way to examine the data is at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) Web site.


The “chance for college” measure serves as a reliable indicator of the high-school-to-college pipeline. The data measures the percent of high school freshmen who complete high school and go directly to college.

How to Use the Data

This is a good measure of the high-school-to-college pipeline. If your state scores poorly on this measure, it means that your schools and colleges need to examine why students are not persisting through the pipeline.

How the details were measured

The data is reported as the percent of ninth graders who finish high school in four years and attend college by age 19. Specifically, the data looks at the number of college freshmen enrolled anywhere in the country divided by the number of ninth graders enrolled in high school four years earlier by state. The data can not be broken down by race or income.

Limitations of the data

The “chance for college” measure has significant limitations. Most important, it looks only at high school graduates who immediately enroll in college. It does not account for students who take time off between high school and college. Moreover, the indicator does not account for high school students who drop out and earn a GED or students who are held back in high school and then go to college.

Key Questions to Ask

Are there local indicators of this measure?

Some states and districts have collected very detailed data on this measure. According to the Data Quality Campaign, 33 states have linked their higher education and K–12 data systems, so that they can track individual students who leave high school and enroll in the state’s public universities.

What is the college-going rate of high school graduates?

The chance for college indicator should be examined in conjunction with the college-going rate of high school graduates, so that you can get a full picture of the high-school-to-college pipeline.

Learn More

The “chance for college” measure should be analyzed together with the “college-going” measure of high school graduates. The “chance for college” measure looks at students who go from ninth grade through high school and straight into college. It’s important to examine both measures together, because some states might have a low “chance for college” rate but a high “college-going” rate, suggesting that many students drop out of high school as sophomores and juniors, leaving behind a group of students who attend college at high rates. Analyzing data from NCES, higher education analyst Thomas Mortenson published the college-going rate indicator in Postsecondary Education Opportunity, and it is available only at the state level.

There are a number of other data sources on students enrolling in college. Using various federal data sources, NCHEMS publishes state-by-state data on college enrollment broken down by race, gender, and level. The organization also publishes the percent of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college by state.

If you are looking for county-by-county information, the U.S. Census Bureau collects data on the number of adults in college by state. While the data does not account for where the students come from, it can be broken down by race, age, and type of postsecondary institution. To obtain the data, educators should visit the American Community Survey Web site, and then click on detailed tables, then geographic area, and then choose table B14001, which is titled “School enrollment by level of school for the population three years and over.” To calculate the percent of students by county, you will also need to download the total number of adults. To get that piece of information, visit the American Community Survey Web site  and then click on detailed tables, then geographic area, and then choose table number B01001, which is titled “Sex by age.”

Additional Resources

Demonstrating success: Education partnership leads to ‘Broad’ success—This district’s collaboration with higher education partners has smoothed the way for students’ education from preschool through college master’s degree level, or “preK-18.”