The College Enrollment Rate of ACT-Tested Students Remains Stable

Despite Significant Growth in the Number of ACT-Tested Students

Of the 1,845,787 students in the ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2014, 69% (1,275,485) enrolled in college in the fall after graduating from high school. The enrollment rate of ACT-tested students has remained relatively stable over the past few years (at roughly 70%) despite significant growth in both the number and representation of ACT-tested students during that time. As mentioned in Part 1 of this report, the number of high school graduates who take the ACT has increased by 11% since 2012 (when the College Choice Report was first published) and the share of high school graduates who take the ACT has increased from 52% in 2012 to 57% in 2014.

The current rate at which ACT-tested students attend college immediately after completing high school varies considerably by state, however, from a low of 42% in Utah to a high of 88% in Connecticut and Massachusetts.1 An important factor that drives state differences in the enrollment rates of ACT-tested students is the states’ ACT participation rates. In states with lower participation rates, students who take the ACT tend to be higher-achieving students who plan to attend college, whereas in states with high participation rates, a more diverse population of students are taking the ACT, including lower-achieving students and those who may not consider attending college.

There is a strong negative relationship between a state’s ACT participation rate and the rate at which students enroll in college upon completing high school, such that students in states with lower participation rates generally enroll in college at higher rates and students in states with higher participation rates generally enroll at lower rates. Figure 1 shows this relationship for the ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2014. As seen in the figure, states with lower ACT participation rates (horizontal axis) tend to have a larger percentage of ACT-tested students who enroll in college (vertical axis), whereas states with higher ACT participation rates tend to have a smaller percentage of ACT-tested students who enroll in college. States in the Northeast are clustered in the upper-left area of the figure, having both lower participation rates and higher enrollment rates. Among the states that do not appear to exhibit this same pattern, Mississippi has a relatively high enrollment rate among the states with 100% ACT participation rates, whereas Arizona has a relatively low enrollment rate given its ACT participation rate.

Chart Table
Figure 1. College Enrollment Rate by State ACT Participation Rate, 2014
Figure 1. College Enrollment Rate by State ACT Participation Rate, 2014
Region State Participation Rate Enrollment Rate
Midwest Illinois 100% 63.2%
Midwest Indiana 40% 78.4%
Midwest Iowa 68% 80.1%
Midwest Kansas 75% 75.7%
Midwest Michigan 100% 59.2%
Midwest Minnesota 76% 75.6%
Midwest Missouri 76% 74.6%
Midwest Nebraska 86% 77.1%
Midwest North Dakota 100% 59.9%
Midwest Ohio 72% 75.9%
Midwest South Dakota 78% 75.2%
Midwest Wisconsin 73% 77.2%
Northeast Connecticut 29% 87.9%
Northeast Maine 9% 81.9%
Northeast Massachusetts 23% 88.3%
Northeast New Hampshire 20% 84.4%
Northeast New Jersey 25% 77.3%
Northeast New York 27% 87.3%
Northeast Pennsylvania 19% 85.6%
Northeast Rhode Island 16% 82.4%
Northeast Vermont 29% 77.4%
South Alabama 80% 72.1%
South Arkansas 93% 66.8%
South Delaware 18% 87.0%
South District of Columbia 37% 76.5%
South Florida 81% 64.4%
South Georgia 53% 78.4%
South Kentucky 100% 57.0%
South Louisiana 100% 58.4%
South Maryland 22% 85.1%
South Mississippi 100% 74.3%
South North Carolina 100% 57.0%
South Oklahoma 75% 68.9%
South South Carolina 58% 79.6%
South Tennessee 100% 57.0%
South Texas 40% 75.7%
South Virginia 28% 86.3%
South West Virginia 65% 72.6%
West Alaska 37% 66.6%
West Arizona 55% 56.7%
West California 29% 82.7%
West Colorado 100% 53.5%
West Hawaii 90% 56.2%
West Idaho 45% 63.6%
West Montana 100% 50.2%
West Nevada 36% 72.8%
West New Mexico 69% 71.5%
West Oregon 36% 64.1%
West Utah 100% 41.5%
West Washington 22% 74.7%
West Wyoming 100% 49.7%

Note: The trend line in Figure 1 shows a negative relationship. A correlation of –0.76 (out of a range of –1 to 1) suggests that the strength of the negative relationship between ACT participation rate and college enrollment rate is large in magnitude.

Although the majority of ACT-tested students enroll in college directly after graduating from high school, many ACT-tested students do not attend college at this time, if at all (see Table 1). Students who either postpone or do not attend college are more likely to be lower achieving, have lower degree aspirations, come from families with less-educated parents and lower incomes, be male, and be members of racial/ethnic groups that are neither Asian nor White.

Table 1. Which Students Are Less Likely to Enroll in College Directly After High School?


Less Likely to Enroll in College More Likely to Enroll in College
Lower-achieving students Higher-achieving students
Students with lower degree aspirations Students with higher degree aspirations
Students with lower family incomes Students with higher family incomes
Students with less highly educated parents Students with more highly educated parents
Males Females
All other racial/ethnic groups Asian and White students

Of the 1,275,485 ACT-tested students who enrolled in college, 76% attended a four-year college, whereas 24% attended a two-year college; 78% attended a public college, whereas 22% attended a private college. Figure 2 shows the distribution of enrolled students by the selectivity of the college attended for the ACT-tested graduating class of 2014. To gauge the representativeness of ACT-tested students at institutions of varying selectivity, Figure 2 also provides the distribution of all first-time degree-seeking undergraduates from the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).2 As seen in the figure, nearly one out of three ACT-tested students enrolled in a college with an open admission policy, whereas more than half of all ACT-tested students attended either a less selective college—i.e., where the ACT Composite score of the typical entering student is 20 to 23—or a moderately selective college—i.e., where the ACT Composite score of the typical entering student is 24 to 27; about one out of 10 ACT-tested college students attended a highly selective college. Compared to the population of first-time degree-seeking undergraduates, a smaller percentage of ACT-tested students who enter college attend open admission colleges, whereas larger percentages of ACT-tested students attend colleges that are less selective, moderately selective, and highly selective.

Chart Table
Figure 2. Distribution of Enrolled Students by Selectivity of College Attended
Figure 2. Distribution of Enrolled Students by Selectivity of College Attended
College Selectivity ACT-Tested IPEDS First-Time Undergraduates
Open Admissions 29% 51%
Test Scores Not Required 6% 7%
Least Selective (15–19) 3% 3%
Less Selective (20–23) 25% 17%
Moderately Selective (24–27) 26% 16%
Highly Selective (28–36) 10% 7%

Table 2 shows the distribution of ACT-tested students across 20 different college types based on combinations of college level, selectivity, and control. Three out of five ACT-tested students who enrolled in college directly after high school attended one of three college types: 1) two-year public colleges with an open admission policy (23%), 2) four-year public colleges that are less selective (19%), and 3) four-year public colleges that are moderately selective (20%).

Table 2. Distribution of Enrolled Students Across Different College Types

Level Selectivity Control Count Percent
2-year Open Admissions Private 1,107 <1%
Public 289,394 23%
Test Scores Not Required Private 337 <1%
Public 3,766 <1%
Least Selective (15–19) Private 962 <1%
Public 2,997 <1%
Less Selective (20–23) Private 27 <1%
Public 4,499 <1%
4-year Open Admissions Private 9,340 <1%
Public 66,565 5%
Test Scores Not Required Private 41,073 3%
Public 34,107 3%
Least Selective (15–19) Private 7,502 <1%
Public 28,761 2%
Less Selective (20–23) Private 73,689 6%
Public 245,861 19%
Moderately Selective (24–27) Private 84,565 7%
Public 250,259 20%
Highly Selective (28–36) Private 55,893 4%
Public 74,779 6%



1 The lower enrollment rate in Utah is due in part to the higher proportion of Mormon students who delay college entry for mission trips.

2 Summary statistics for all enrolled students appearing in Figure 2 are calculated using the most recent IPEDS enrollment survey (efa2013) available to the public at the time of this publication.