Ana Alvarez-Zamora adjusts her graduation cap before Washington-Lee High School's commencement ceremony at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., on June 18, 2015. (Brittany Greeson/The Washington Post)

The nation’s total output of high school graduates peaked in 2013 at nearly 3.5 million and is projected to stagnate for most of the next decade, but the Hispanic share is expected to boom, according to a new report.

The demographic shifts point to major recruiting challenges for colleges following an era of steady growth in high school graduates that started in the late 1990s. While that growth had provided a solid pipeline for schools focused on serving traditional students between the ages of 18 to 22, the supply of these students appears to be dwindling or leveling off in Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere.

As a result, many colleges have been forced to rethink how to fill seats and educate incoming students who are more likely than their predecessors to be the first in their families to pursue a bachelor’s degree.


The report from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, released Tuesday, illuminates potential mismatches in supply and demand for higher education. Some states, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast, have lots of colleges and a declining number of high school graduates. Other states in the South and West have the opposite problem. The South, in particular, is an engine of growth: The output of high school graduates from Texas alone is projected to rise 19 percent from 2013 to 2025.

Overall, the report shows that the U.S. high school class of 2013, public and private, was about 3.47 million; the nation’s graduating class is not expected to reach that level again until 2024. The report also found that the number of Hispanic graduates from public schools is projected to rise 43 percent from 2013 to 2025, while the number of white graduates is expected to decline 6 percent. The number of private high school graduates is expected to fall 18 percent in that time.

Joseph Garcia, the commission’s president, said the trends could imperil schools that fall short of recruiting targets, especially small colleges.

“It puts some of these institutions at risk,” Garcia said Monday. With the number of private school graduates and white students ebbing in many places, he said, colleges that relied for generations on certain “feeder schools” could be forced to get creative.

“You can’t use your same old techniques,” he said. “You need to change your approach.”

Virginia high schools next spring are on track to produce about 87,900 graduates. That’s 2 percent fewer than five years earlier. By contrast, the total in the previous five-year period had grown 11 percent. The number of Hispanic graduates in the commonwealth’s public schools is surging and is expected to top 10,100 next spring, up 34 percent over five years.

Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, said the state’s colleges are increasingly focused on helping students finish their degrees. The push for retention and completion helps with enrollment and is also “the right thing to do,” Blake said.

Maryland’s high school class of 2017 is projected to have about 62,000 graduates, down 9 percent compared to the class of 2012. But the number of Hispanic graduates is expected to be about 6,800, up 35 percent.

Robert Caret, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said the state’s public universities are well positioned to capi­tal­ize on the changing market because they offer quality education at a moderate price. “We just play that huge access role, particularly for first-generation students,” Caret said. “We’re in pretty good shape.”

The 15-state commission has studied the demographics of high school graduates for decades. Its report, “Knocking at the College Door,” is the first update to that research in four years.

Jeff Strohl, director of research for Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, said colleges face major recruiting hurdles. One is persuading students to apply. He cited federal data showing that the share of recent high school graduates enrolled in college fell from 70.1 percent in 2009 to 65.9 percent in 2013.

“The disheartening part is that fewer students are trying to go to college,” he said. Strohl said colleges must resist the urge to keep “fishing in the same pond” of potential students. “They’re going to need to spread their enrollment and recruiting activities outside of the places they’ve already gone,” he said.