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US Colleges Set Enrollment Record

More young people than ever are in school, and not just because of the recession. Also, civil rights officials are investigating whether some female-majority schools discriminate against women. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

College enrollment has reached an all-time high in the United States. About forty percent of all eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds -- or almost eleven and a half million -- were in school in October of last year.

A new report says both numbers are record highs. Richard Fry at the Pew Research Center points to a number of reasons.

RICHARD FRY: "The number of young adults that have finished high school is also now at a record all-time high. Almost eighty-five percent of America's young adults have finished high school. That means they're college eligible. So part of the reason college enrollments are at an all-time high is because the pool of youth that's eligible to go to college is also at an all-time high."

Another reason for the enrollment increase: the recession. The unemployment rate reached a twenty-six year high in October. The economic downturn has hit young adults especially hard. Richard Fry says their job-holding rate is almost at the lowest point in nearly fifty years.

In a poor job market, many people turn to higher education, especially at two-year colleges. These schools, known as community colleges, have had the greatest enrollment increase. They offer professional training and traditionally cost a lot less than programs at four-year schools.

But experts say the recession has not cut enrollment in four-year programs, even with their higher -- sometimes much higher -- costs. The Chronicle of Higher Education says at least fifty-eight private colleges now charge fifty thousand dollars or more a year.

Lately there have been accusations that some private, competitive liberal arts colleges are trying to avoid being seen as "too female." Critics say that as a result these schools are discriminating against women and admitting less qualified men.

In August the United States Commission on Civil Rights opened an investigation. Spokeswoman Lenore Ostrowsky says the purpose is to identify if discrimination is taking place in schools.

But she adds that there may be lots of reasons why more women apply to colleges, and why colleges admit more women. The Census Bureau says fifty-four percent of full time students at two- and four-year colleges last year were female.

Federal law bars sex discrimination at any school that receives federal money. Most schools do in one way or another. However, the law does not bar sex discrimination in admissions at private undergraduate schools, only public ones.

The commission does not have enforcement powers, but it can suggest changes in the law. A report could take six months to a year.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by June Simms. Transcripts and podcasts can be found at I'm Jim Tedder.