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Has the “Typical” College Student Really Changed?

How do we think about the ‘typical’ college student, and do the data agree?

Over the last few years many articles have argued that we view the “typical” college student wrong. The Washington Post contends that “typical” college students are no longer “teenagers who spent senior year of high school searching for the four-year institution that best matched their personalities.” Forbes agrees that “the experience for most college students is nothing at all like [the typical].” These points are further argued by NPR, Vox, and Slate.

In the Huffington Post’s view, “If you’re like most Americans, you probably picture a young, more-than-likely white, high school graduate somewhere between 18 and 21 years old, attending a four-year institution full time.” Using data from the Digest of Education Statistics we will explore the basis of these assumptions and look at the predicted future of current trends.

Are students likely to be white?

Yes, but the prevalence of white students has been on the decline since at least the 1980s. Though white students make up 60% of the higher education population in 2012, this is a substantial decrease from 1980 where they represented 83% of the student population. This decline comes as black and Hispanic students rise from 9% and 4% respectively in 1980 to each representing 15% of the student body population in 2012. Furthermore, these trends are likely to continue; minority students are predicted to reach 45% of the nation’s high school graduates by 2020, with some states reaching 50-80% minority graduates.

Are students likely to be 24 and under?

                    Digest of Education Statistics 2013, Table 224

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