Amid expanded college access over the past several decades, as many as 86 percent of on-time high school graduates now continue their education. But the era of “college for all” has yielded a new set of challenges and obstacles for young people and the institutions that serve them, particularly community colleges. In The New Forgotten Half and Research Directions to Support Them, James Rosenbaum and colleagues find that many young people who enroll in community college fail to complete their studies and attain a degree, and that these youth fare no better in the labor market than those with only a high school diploma.

Using data from the nationally representative Educational Longitudinal Survey (ELS), the authors examine the circumstances of youth who drop out of community college before attaining a credential, discuss institutional challenges in the era of increased college access, and outline a research agenda to help youth move beyond “some college” and achieve their potential.

Research Responses

Extant research has already begun to shape the national conversation about higher education, but future research, especially in the areas outlined by Rosenbaum and colleagues, can give way to a better understanding of the types of smart policies and reforms that will improve outcomes for young people and the institutions that serve them.

Key Findings

Increased Access

Most on-time high school graduates now attend college, and many enroll at community colleges.


A New Reality

Though college enrollment has increased, many students, particularly those at community colleges, do not complete their degrees.


Credential Attainment

“Some college” yields no greater benefits than a high school diploma, but even sub-baccalaureate credentials provide payoffs and labor market benefits.


Learn More

Capitol Hill Forum

On May 1, 2015, the Foundation and the American Youth Policy Forum convened leaders from the policy, higher education, and business communities for a discussion of strategies to help the new forgotten half get ahead and achieve their potential.

Who Was the Original Forgotten Half?

Published in 1988,“The Forgotten Half: Pathways to Success for America’s Youth and Young Families,”is the influential final report of the William T. Grant Foundation’s Commission on Youth and America’s Future. “The Forgotten Half” alerted us to the reality that individuals who did not attend college—fully half the nation’s youth, not just those in poverty—were struggling in “the passage to adulthood.” Perhaps most notably, the report demonstrated that vital social mechanisms were failing, causing youth to get lost in the transition to productive adult roles. But “The Forgotten Half” also presented constructive remedies such as individual supports to at-risk youth, better institutional alignment, improved school–work pathways, increased institutional supports such as job training and social services, and better recognition of youth’s capabilities.

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