A Knocking Update: COVID-19 and Public School Enrollments and Graduates

BOULDER, Colo. – The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education has released COVID-19 and Public School Enrollments and Graduates, a follow-up analysis to the Knocking at the College Door report.

Released in December 2020, the data in WICHE’s Knocking at the College Door 10th edition of high school graduate projections predated the pandemic. This new report reviews public high school enrollment and graduate data from the last two years, simulates the possible impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on future high school graduate trends, and highlights the need to support the large and diverse cohorts of potential college students as the nation and many states face declines in the number of graduates beginning in the mid-2020s.

  • High School Retention on Track, But Concerns Remain. Public high school graduate numbers may have continued on pace to potentially reach all-time highs in 2020 and 2021. But these positive high school enrollment levels likely mask many less immediately obvious impacts of COVID-19, such as loss of learning and students short on credits. This summer and the coming school year could be pivotal for keeping current high school students on track to graduate.
  • More Support Needed for Diverse and Disparately Impacted Students. The recent data confirm that students of color are still drivers of increase in the number of high school graduates. States should continue to adapt and focus on serving the large and increasingly diverse cohorts of young adults, especially lower-income students and students of color, with new needs for academic and other assistance.
  • Elementary and Middle Schools See Enrollment Decline. While public high school populations remained relatively stable in fall 2020, student numbers in lower grades notably decreased as families opted for homeschooling or private schools. These changed enrollment patterns, which varied by student race and ethnicity, could affect the public high school graduate pipeline, whether as temporary or permanent reductions in the public school sector, or worse, disengagement from school altogether.

Visit www.knocking.wiche.edu to access the full report (online and PDF versions), data, charts and more.



Since 1953, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) has been strengthening higher education, workforce development, and behavioral health throughout the region. As an interstate compact, WICHE partners with states, territories, and postsecondary institutions to share knowledge, create resources, and develop innovative solutions that address some of our society’s most pressing needs. From promoting high-quality, affordable postsecondary education to helping states get the most from their technology investments and addressing behavioral health challenges, WICHE improves lives across the West through innovation, cooperation, resource sharing, and sound public policy. WICHE members include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawai‘i, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and the U.S. Pacific Territories and Freely Associated States (specifically the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands).

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