College Bound: NC high school graduates and the UNC school system

By this Sunday (May 1), most college-bound high school seniors will have made a decision about where they will be this fall. For North Carolina students staying in-state, college-bound students have a choice between 15 campuses. Where do they go?

Last year, 30,700 graduating high school seniors reported that they intended to enroll at one of the state’s public 4-year universities. The fall enrollment data for the UNC system indicates that there were 27,443 recent high school graduates who enrolled as first-year college students in the fall of 2015. This means that just over 89% of all high school graduates who reported intentions of enrolling in the UNC system in the spring of 2015 were enrolled in the fall.

In previous posts, we’ve looked at where college-bound seniors go when choosing among the five largest public institutions (NC State, ECU, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte, and ASU) and when choosing among all UNC system schools.

Today, we provide two alternate views of understanding college enrollment patterns. Drawing on 2015 Home Base of Students data from UNC’s North Carolina Higher Education Data (NCHED) collection system, the interactive maps below examine both the college choice of recent high school graduates and the county source of first-year freshman at a given institution.

The first tab, “UNC Campus Attended,” highlights the percentage of high school graduates from each county that attend the selected school. College enrollment trends show high levels of regionality. Although the largest institutions frequently pull from most, if not all, of the state’s counties, individuals attending college are most likely to attend institutions close to where they live.

The second tab, “County Source of Students,” highlights the percentage of first-time college freshman at each campus by their county of origin. As the state’s largest population centers, Wake and Mecklenburg counties dominate the flows of students into state universities. Wake is the biggest first-year sending county at Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, NC Central University, NC State University, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Chapel Hill, and UNC-Wilmington. Mecklenburg is the leading sender of first-year freshman to NC A&T State University, UNC-Charlotte, and Winston-Salem State University.

There are only five campuses for which Wake or Mecklenburg are not the leading source of first-time freshman: Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Pembroke, and Western Carolina University. At each of these campuses, the campus home county or largest nearby county is the leading sender of first-year freshman students.

About Rebecca Tippett

Rebecca Tippett is Director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill's Carolina Population Center.
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