As with every other aspect of life, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the decision process of high school graduates as they weigh work-or-school choices. May 2020 was the worst of the downturn, with millions of jobs disappearing overnight. Simultaneously, most colleges had shifted at least partially to online classes. Family financial strains due to COVID-19 disruptions were also prevalent. It was something of a perfect storm.

During the fall of 2020, almost 63% of 2020 high school graduates ages 16 to 24 were enrolled in colleges or universities, down from 66% the prior year according to data maintained by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021 statistics are not yet available). A drop of this magnitude in a single year is unprecedented.

Rates of college attendance vary by gender and race/ethnicity. For high school graduates ages 16 to 24, the college enrollment rate for young women was over 66% compared to 59% for young men. The college enrollment rate of Asians was highest at 83%, with Whites at about 63%, Blacks at 57%, and Hispanics at 56%.

Education opens doors to better paying positions as well as a lower probability of being jobless. As of December 2021, the overall US unemployment rate for those over 16 was 3.9%, with 3.3% for those 25 and older. Higher levels of educational attainment were linked to lower incidence of joblessness, with unemployment of 5.2% among persons over 25 without a high school diploma, compared to 4.6% for high school graduates, 3.6% for those with some college or an associate degree, and 2.1% for people with at least a bachelor’s degree.

The fact that COVID-19 caused a notable decline in attendance is going to impact both potential students and the workforce for quite a while. Some of them doubtless matriculated a year later and enrolled last fall, but it is unlikely that all ground was regained (particularly given attendance data).

During economic downturns, there is typically an increased incentive to enroll in higher education or stay in school due to less competition from the job market (and hence lower opportunity costs). With the pandemic, however, the opposite occurred. Moreover, recent patterns indicate fairly strong growth in wages for young people, including those with just a high school education. Inflation has eroded much of these gains, but nonetheless labor shortages (some of which are long term) are increasing both the numbers of jobs available and the amounts they pay.

Even so, the long-term underlying correlation between additional education and higher lifetime earnings and lower likelihood of unemployment across decades remains alive and well. Let’s hope for all of our sakes that this phenomenon abates along with COVID-19 in the near future. Stay safe!


Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Dr. M. Ray Perryman, president and CEO of The Perryman Group (www.perrymangroup.com). The group has served the needs of over 2,500 clients over the past four decades. The above column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Perryman can be reached by email via: [email protected].


Quality journalism takes time, effort and…. Money!

Producing quality journalism is not cheap. The coronavirus has resulted in falling revenues across the newsrooms of the United States. However, The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service is committed to producing quality news reporting on the issues that matter to border residents. The support of our members is vital in ensuring our mission gets fulfilled. 

Can we count on your support? If so, click HERE. Thank you!


Keep on top of the big stories affecting the Texas-Mexico. Join our mailing list to receive regular email alerts.

Sign-up for the latest news


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Rio Grande Guardian. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact