High School Graduate Higher Education Demand Trends Among U.S. Consumers

Executive Summary

Fewer recent high school graduates are inquiring about programs that can lead to higher-paying careers as shown by year-over-year (YOY) drops in inquiry share of voice (SOV) for these program categories.


  • Legal Professions and Studies ― down 91%
  • Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services ― down 47%
  • Business, Management, Marketing and Related Support Services ― down 40%

Program Distribution Trends Among Recent High School Graduates

Legal Professions and Studies

As several trends hit the law profession — fewer graduates, fewer jobs and the specter of growing automation in legal services — high school graduates seemed less interested in pursuing this educational track in 2017, as shown by the 91% SOV drop from the year prior. While, overall, the job picture for law school graduates remains comparatively healthy, according to the National Association for Law Placement, legal jobs are becoming harder to find.


Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services

Interest in technology programs declined by half (based on a 47% year-over-year drop in SOV) among high school graduating seniors. The technology category has been experiencing a downward trend among potential students, with SOV falling every quarter from Q4 2015 to Q1 2018.


Public Administration and Social Service Professions

Young people hoping to pursue government or social service careers often face an uphill battle. States and localities have been hit hard in recent years with budget pressures resulting in fewer entry-level positions available. Graduating high school students showed little interest in the public administration category, with the 2017 SOV down 44% year over year to just 0.4%. Data from the U.S. Department of Education and National Center for Education Statistics shows that several of the top government-related academic fields ― including criminal justice, political science and public administration ― have seen the number of degrees awarded dip slightly or level off over the past few years.


Personal and Culinary Services

Professionals working in personal and culinary services often deal with fluctuating demand and mounting pressures on the job, which can be unattractive to people preparing to enter the workforce.  This program culinary services category experienced a sharp demand decline in 2017 with a 41% drop in SOV among graduating high school students.


Business, Management, Marketing and Related Support Services

While still reigning as the most popular higher education program among all potential students, interest in business programs has been on the decline every quarter since Q4 2015, according to the 2017 Year End Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review published by Digital Media Solutions, LLC (DMS). Among recent high school graduates, the business category experienced a sharp SOV decline (40%) from 2016 to 2017.


Degree-Level Demand

According to the 2017 Year End Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review, associate and bachelor’s degrees combined to represent more than half (55%) of all student demand. Among graduating high school seniors, the combined share for two- and four-year programs was lower. Bachelor’s programs accounted for 45% and associate degrees for just 2% of inquiry volume in 2017.


Degree-Level Distribution Trends Among Recent High School Graduates

The data used in this report is from aggregated higher education industry inquiries processed through and stored within Sparkroom performance marketing technology. Sparkroom is owned by Digital Media Solutions, LLC, and is used by its DMS Digital Agency and licensed by a long list of higher education marketers to centralize marketing and lead data. Additional information on higher education inquiry demand trends and conversion activities can be found in the 2017 Year-End Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review.


Data Disclosure: This snapshot report by Digital Media Solutions, LLC (DMS) covers trends in the inquiry generation activities of higher education institutions for the period of January 2016-December 2017, with an emphasis on prospective students with a high school graduation date in 2016 or 2017, utilizing aggregated data normalized to remove all school-specific information and trending.

The dataset used for this report includes more than 30 unique inquiry buyers, almost 1000 campus locations and almost 3000 programs. Data was aggregated into standard categories/subjects using the CIP classification system. Inquiries processed by Sparkroom  performance marketing technology are derived from a variety of sources, with approximately one-half coming from third-party channels and one-half from branded marketing efforts, such as school websites, paid search campaigns and social media campaigns. Because school demand plays a factor in inquiry generation, there is the potential for related bias within the report findings.

Data is provided for informational purposes only. While ever attempt is made to ensure accuracy, errors may arise.


© 2018 Digital Media Solutions, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Digital Media Solutions and its logos are trademarks or registered trademarks of Digital Media Solutions, LLC. All other company and product names referenced herein are the property of their respective owners.

About the Author

Digital Media Solutions

Digital Media Solutions, Inc. (NYSE: DMS) is a leading provider of technology and digital performance marketing solutions leveraging innovative, performance-driven brand and marketplace solutions to connect consumers and advertisers. DMS proprietary technology solutions, significant proprietary media distribution and data-driven processes help large brands steadily acquire more customers. For more information visit https://digitalmediasolutions.com.

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