By Robyn Ince, Bernie Lombardi, and Betsy Kim

Relying on data from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census and the National Student Clearinghouse, we will give an overview of the college enrollment and attainment trends in Newark, the state of New Jersey, and the U.S. overall. We will also speak to some limitations in the data and how our study on Newark students who are disengaged from college might begin to fill in some of those gaps.

According to the American Community Survey, the state of New Jersey surpassed the national average in college attainment rates in 2022, while the city of Newark was below national and state averages with about half of its resident ages 25 and over attaining a bachelor’s degree or higher (see Table 1).

Table 1. College attainment rates in the US, New Jersey and Newark in 2022

18-24 year olds 25 years and over

Some college or associate degree

Bachelor’s degree or higher Some college no degree Associate degree Bachelor’s degree or higher
U.S. 39.6% 13.4% 19.1% 8.8% 35.6%
NJ 38.7% 18.9% 15.2% 6.7% 43.5%
Newark 38.2% 10.3% 17.4% 4.9% 20%

Source: American Community Survey, 2022.

At the same time, Newark residents are enrolling in college at higher rates than those at state and national levels (see Table 2) suggesting that there may be more to this story.

Table 2. College enrollment rates in the US, New Jersey and Newark in 2022


Graduate and professional

U.S. 20.8% 5.8%
NJ 19.6% 6.3%
Newark 22.6% 5.3%

Source: American Community Survey, 2022.

Data from the National Student Clearinghouse shows that undergraduate enrollment grew nationwide (+2.1%) in fall 2023 for the first time since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Community colleges have started to recover from the pandemic showing a growth of 4.4 percent this fall (+4.3% since fall 2021). However, freshman enrollment declined by 3.6 percent, reversing fall 2022 gains (+4.6%), and is now at just 0.8 percent above fall 2021 enrollment. Black, Latino, and Asian students accounted for most of the undergraduate and graduate enrollment growth in fall 2023. Enrollment of White students continued to decline at both the graduate (-1.9%) and undergraduate levels (-0.9%), most acutely among freshmen (-9.4%). Undergraduate enrollment grew at both ends of the age spectrum, with students ages 18-20 and 30+ each adding about 3 percent this fall. Among traditional-aged undergraduate students, enrollment this year is up across all neighborhood income levels, with students from the lowest income areas gaining 3.6 percent and those from the highest income areas gaining 1.4 percent.

While these data sources highlight some interesting trends in college enrollment and attainment, they do not provide the full picture of what high school graduates and GED holders in Newark are experiencing. For example, we know very little about those who are not enrolled in or do not graduate from college. We also do not know how those who are enrolled are faring in college. Additionally, there is very little qualitative data available on the topic, making it difficult to ascertain the factors that keep people from enrolling in college and persisting. By interviewing Newark high school graduates and GED holders who are not currently enrolled in college, as well as community-based organizations that work on this issue, we hope to fill in some of these gaps and provide a broader picture of how this population perceives college and what their experiences are like in accessing the opportunity, particularly in the post-COVID era.