Oregon’s college-going rates have fallen, risking equity, the state economy

In recent years, Oregon has witnessed a concerning decline in college-going rates among high school graduates. This trend poses significant threats to both equity and the state’s economy.

From 2010 to 2022, the percentage of Oregon high school graduates enrolling in postsecondary education has steadily decreased. Several factors contribute to this decline, including rising tuition costs, increased competition for scholarships, and the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that have forced many families to prioritize immediate income over long-term educational investment.

One of the most troubling aspects of this trend is its disparate impact on students from historically marginalized communities. Low-income students, first-generation college students, and students of color face greater barriers to higher education access. With fewer resources and support systems, these students are less likely to pursue higher education, exacerbating existing inequities within the state.

The decline in college-going rates also presents a grave risk to Oregon’s economic future. A well-educated workforce is essential for attracting and retaining businesses that drive innovation and economic growth. Industries such as technology, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing rely heavily on graduates with specialized skills and knowledge. Without a steady pipeline of qualified workers, these sectors may struggle to thrive, potentially stunting overall economic progress.

Moreover, higher education attainment is closely linked to individual economic mobility. College graduates typically earn higher wages, enjoy better job security, and contribute more in taxes over their lifetimes compared to those with only a high school diploma. As fewer Oregonians pursue higher education, the state risks a widening income gap and a stagnating economy.

Addressing this issue requires a multifaceted approach. State policymakers need to consider more robust financial aid programs that can alleviate the burden of tuition costs for low- and middle-income families. Investments in early outreach programs can help demystify the college application process and provide critical support for underserved communities. Additionally, strengthening partnerships between high schools, colleges, and employers could provide clearer pathways from education to employment.

In conclusion, the declining college-going rates in Oregon are not just an educational concern but a critical issue that touches on equity and economic vitality. Stakeholders at all levels must work collaboratively to reverse this trend and ensure that every Oregonian has the opportunity to achieve higher education and participate fully in the state’s economic future.