Americans love a good success story and high school graduation season lends itself to tales of exceptional achievement as each spring brings a predictable stream of articles with clickbait titles like: “High school senior graduating two years early offered admission at 170 colleges” and “She was accepted by 54 colleges and got 1.3 million in scholarship offers.”

I think these stories are supposed to make us feel inspired, but as a lifelong educator, I find them deflating. Not only do they cast education as a sweepstakes but they imply that surely anyone who really wants to go to college can get at least one acceptance letter.

The reality is that while roughly 65 percent of American high school graduates each year “cross the stage” and proceed directly to college, the pathway to higher education is formidable for many young people — and, though it’s another story altogether, some young Americans are increasingly skeptical about what colleges have to offer, while others still are questioning the college-degree ROI.

In YouthTruth’s most recent report we explore which members of the class of 2023 want to go to college — and which actually expect to go to college. Funders take note: The changing patterns around high school graduates’ college-going expectations is about far more than fixing a leaky pipeline. Who goes to college and who does not go to college are well-established predictors of future earnings, social mobility, healthful behaviors, and even civic engagement. Consider the broad implications of just three of our findings about the future plans of graduates in the Class of 2023.

Finding 1: In this year’s graduating class, girls’ expectations for college (83 percent want to go to college, 77 percent expect to attend college) significantly outpace all of their classmates’, including boys (68 percent want to go to college, 57 percent expect to go to college).

Finding 2: When we consider the class of 2023’s college aspirations and expectations side-by-side by race, we see that for some groups there is a larger mismatch between wanting to go to college and actually expecting to enroll in college.

Finding 3: Compared to their pre-pandemic peers in the class of 2019 this year’s graduates who are boys, Black, or Hispanic all report at significantly diminished percentages that they expect to attend community college. Since 2019 the percentage of Black seniors expecting to attend community college dropped from 25 to17 percent, for Hispanic students from 34 to 27 percent, and for boys from 23 to 18 percent.

Read the full article about supporting student aspirations by Jennifer de Forest at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.