Most students who took a gap year in 2020 still haven’t enrolled in college

High School Benchmarks report shows downturns for minorities and those who attended lower-income schools.

The latest High School Benchmarks report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that the majority of students who took a gap year in 2020 did not enroll at colleges and universities in 2021.

Despite a huge downturn in the number of students immediately entering postsecondary education after graduating in 2020, a year later they still have opted to delay or altogether abandon those pursuits. And those from lower-income high schools appear to be the most affected, the Clearinghouse says.

“We found no upswing in gap-year college enrollment this fall,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the Research Center. “Only 2% of those who did not enroll in college immediately after high school in 2020 showed up as gap-year enrollments in fall 2021, strongly suggesting that the pandemic-related concerns that kept many students out of college last year have not abated.”

That 2% is also lower than pre-pandemic levels (2.6% for 2018 and 2.2% for 2019) which didn’t have the same number of drop-offs as 2020. The ninth-annual Benchmarks study, which factored in thousands of high schools and around six million students (which it notes “do not comprise a nationally representative sample of schools or of high school graduates” but is a robust sample), showed that immediate college enrollments were down as much as 10% for some high schools. “This is the opposite of what one would expect, given that the number of potential gap-year students (graduates not enrolling in their first fall) had increased,” study authors noted in the report.

While disparities in those both entering and returning for gap years from the Class of 2020 was highlighted by the Clearinghouse, it also tracked persistence data from the 2018 graduating and completion statistics from the Class of 2014:

  • Nearly 10% more of students from higher-income high schools persisted at colleges and universities than lower-income students.
  • Students from high-poverty schools were 36% less likely—at just 24%—to have completed degrees within six years. Urban high school students also were 10% less likely to achieve that goal than those from suburban districts.
  • Schools with higher incomes and lower numbers of minority students far outpaced low-income, high-minority schools in terms of completion, 52% to 28%.
  • STEM-degree seekers also skewed heavily in favor of higher-income, lower-minority students.

The Clearinghouse Research Center plans to release an analysis of the Class of 2021 and their enrollments for this fall during the spring of 2022.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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