Fewer young people go on to university after finishing high school as graduate unemployment reaches new peaks and the value of a college education is increasingly in doubt.
According to statistics released by the Ministry of Education on Wednesday, 70.7 percent of 631,197 students who graduated from high school in February went to university or vocational college.
The country's college enrollment rate stood at a mere 27.1 percent in 1990 but soared rapidly until a peak of 77.8 percent in 2009.
Then the proportion started to drop again, returning to 71.3 percent in 2012.
The rate of high school graduates entering the workforce straight away is on the rise for the second year running, from 23.3 percent in 2011 to 29.2 percent in 2012 and 30.2 percent this year.
"Until only two or three years ago, it was more or less the norm to go to college after high school, but this pattern is changing as corporations and banks employ more people with high-school diplomas," said Kim Sun-tae of the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training.
"The rate of high school graduates entering workforce is also increasing as more students decide to go to college later if necessary, when they figure out what they really want to do."
But Korea still ranks top in the OECD for college enrollment. According to OECD statistics for 2013, Korea ranked first at 65 percent in terms of the ratio of college graduates to the population aged 25-34. Next came Japan, Canada, Russia, Ireland and the U.K.