New study examines declining school enrollment estimates by school


For the foreseeable future, the pool of newly eligible freshmen will shrink. This freshman recession will begin around 2026 and could continue for a decade or more. This forecast is well known. The books have already been written about that.

However, a new report released this month from the higher education data analytics and SaaS company Othot, puts this coming decline in abrupt, unusually precise and specific relief. The report is important because it is based on institution-level data from over 450 colleges and universities and examines how each of them can fare when their particular pipeline of high school graduates slows down. In other words, it goes beyond the norm “schools in the industrial Midwest will suffer while the solar belt is awesome.”

Because this report goes much further, it contains some very interesting findings that are worth publishing, such as eight out of ten schools – no matter where they are, what their size or school type – will see their enrollments. Grade 1 decline after 2025 Overall, only the most elite schools and schools that recruit in high-growth states without significant competition are among the 20% that will not experience a decline. Even then, the report says, schools in that narrow 20% band will only see flat entering classes or, at best, very modest payouts.

Many schools on the other side, in the 80% of schools facing declines, will face abrupt, if not terrifying, droughts. Even among large public schools, according to the report, one in four will experience declines approaching or exceeding 10%. This should attract the attention of some school leaders. Or at least you hope so.

The demographic changes to come have precise and inevitable geographic realities, even in surprising ways. Cuts in Michigan and Pennsylvania can be expected. But seeing states like California and Virginia facing enrollment contractions is new.

But the real title of the report, say the authors, is that while geography matters, it doesn’t control. As an example, the report cites two schools that share not only a state but a city – the University of Chicago (UC) and the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC). While you might think these two schools would ride demographic waves the same, they’re unlikely to. Even though it is considered an elite school, the report says the University of Chicago will likely face a 4% drop in enrollment while UIC will face an 11% drop.

“Of course, the location of a school is important,” said Andy Hannah, co-founder and president of Othot. “But, in the 2020s, we will see very different results, even for schools located in the same city – due to their current geographic recruitment strategy and expected pressures from competitors.”

Competition, they say, is an important and overlooked consideration in forecasting residential enrollment. That’s because, as enrollment is declining almost everywhere – in that 80% of estimated schools – schools will pivot to recruit new places in new ways. They won’t have a choice. This means that, if you play around a bit, even schools that think they are safe because they are recruiting in fields expecting moderate growth can find unexpected business cards on the advisers’ desks. guidance in their local high schools.

Another takeaway from the work done in this report and analysis is that it is possible for institutions to already know a lot about what the future holds for them personally, not just at the regional level. Smart calculations and applied data calculations can give a college leader an idea whether he is facing an unpleasant 5% drop after 2025 or a potentially catastrophic sinkhole of 20% or more. As noted, relying on geographic abbreviations such as “we are in California, everything is fine” or “Florida is a growing state” can be problematic. Many schools in these two states will see a sharp drop in first-grade enrollment, and soon.

“We have made these projections available for the 450 schools we have analyzed in this report and, in the short term, we propose to make similar and complementary projections for any other interested school,” said Hannah. “Schools need to know the future they face and understand the types of data and analysis available. With this information, they can develop and implement strategic plans that allow them to adapt and thrive. the future. ”

Knowing more about what you think you already know sounds smart, especially when the stakes are this high. And for colleges, the stakes aren’t much higher than declining enrollment. This we already know.


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