New study examines estimates of school enrollment by school, decline

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In the knowable future, the pool of newly eligible freshmen will shrink. This first-year recession will begin around 2026 and could last a decade or more. This forecast is well known. Books have already been written on this subject.

Nonetheless, a new report released this month by the high-profile data analytics firm and SaaS firm Othot, puts this coming decline in stark, unusually precise, and specific relief. The report is important because it is based on institution-level data from more than 450 colleges and universities and examines how each of them can fare when their particular pool of high school graduates slows down. In other words, it goes beyond the “schools in the industrial Midwest will suffer while the solar belt is excellent” standard.

Because this report goes much deeper, it contains some very insightful results worthy of a title, such as eight out of ten schools – no matter where they are, how big or what type of school they are – will see their. First-year enrollments decline after 2025. Globally, only the most elite schools and schools that recruit in high-growth states without significant competition are among the 20% that will not see a decline. Even then, the report says, schools in that narrow 20% band will only see stable entering classes or, at best, very modest gains.

Many schools on the other side, in the 80% of schools facing declines, will face severe, if not terrifying, droughts. Even among large public schools, according to the report, one in four people will see 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. We can expect cuts in Michigan and Pennsylvania. 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 at Chicago (UIC). While you might think that these two schools would ride demographic waves the same, they probably won’t. 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 matters,” said Andy Hannah, co-founder and president of Othot. “But, in the 2020s, we will see vastly 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 school enrollments. Indeed, as enrollment declines almost everywhere – in the estimated 80% of schools – schools will pivot to recruit new places in new ways. They won’t have a choice. This means that if you play that up a bit, even schools that think they are safe because they are recruiting from areas where moderate growth is expected can find unexpected business cards on the desks of their career counselors. 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, and not just at the regional level. Some smart calculations and applied data analysis can give a college leader an idea whether he’s facing an unpleasant 5% drop after 2025 or a potentially catastrophic sinkhole of 20% or more. As noted, relying on geographic shortcuts such as “we’re in California, all is well” or “Florida is a growing state” can be problematic. Many schools in these two states will see a sharp drop in freshman 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 do similar and complementary projections for any other interested school,” said Hannah. “Schools need to know their future. confront 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 in 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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