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Study: College enrollment at all-time high

The share of 18- to 24-year-olds attending college in the United States hit an all-time high in Oct. 2008, driven by a recession-era surge in enrollments at community colleges, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Just under 11.5 million students, or 39.6 percent of all young adults ages 18 to 24, were enrolled in either a two- or four-year college in Oct. 2008. Both figures—the absolute number as well as the share—are at their highest level ever.

This new peak in college enrollment has come in the midst of a recession that has driven the national unemployment rate to its highest level in more than a quarter of a century and has had an especially harsh impact on young adults. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a smaller share of 16- to 24-year-olds were employed in Sept. 2009— 46.1 percent —than at any time since the government began collecting such data in 1948.

Virtually all of the college enrollment growth from 2007 to 2008 came at community colleges, which enrolled 3.4 million young adults in Oct. 2008, up from 3.1 million a year earlier.

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