By now, higher-education recruiters are probably well aware of the dire forecasts for student enrollment later this decade. Although elite universities and those serving niche markets are likely to weather the approaching storm just fine, other schools can’t afford to continue recruiting as they always have. An increasing number of colleges are using advanced analytics and artificial intelligence to help them and, as they do so, are finding new pools of students that might not originally have been in the forecast.
The future of enrollment is often considered in a national, big-picture perspective. Consequently, many college and university administrators mistakenly believe they share the same fate. A deeper look into the data indicates a different reality, however. The declines will be profoundly uneven, varying by state, locality, and type of institution. In other words, the impact of future enrollment trends will not be felt equally by all schools.
The situation is this. Several experts in demographics—including Nathan Grawe, an economist at Carleton College in Minnesota—predict that the college-going population will drop as a result of fewer numbers of U.S. births. Grawe predicts a 15-percent decline between 2025 and 2029, and he believes enrollment will continue to fall thereafter, albeit at a slower pace. The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) also predicts a decline in the number of high school graduates beginning in 2026 and continuing through 2037.
Not every area of the country will be affected the same way. A deeper dive into Grawe’s and WICHE’s data reveals sharp disparities by region.
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