How Long Can Virginia Colleges Defy the Enrollment Turndown?

Source: StatChat. Click for larger image.

How will Virginia colleges and universities fare going forward against a national backdrop of declining college enrollment? Luke Juday offers an interesting perspective at the Stat Chat blog, noting that the post-18-year-old age cohort is expected to shrink over the next two decades. Writes Juday:

If we think about the graduating high school seniors who might be entering college, there would have been close to 4.6 million 18 year-olds in 2009.  Five years later, there are only 4.2 million – And the 17 year-olds preparing for college are the smallest age cohort younger than 35 – at 4,176,000.  The next set of them (current 16 year-olds) will be even smaller. In fact, we should expect a slowly declining pool of college-aged students for the foreseeable future, as illustrated by the graph [above].

So far, Virginia’s public and private universities seem to be bucking the trend, experiencing a small enrollment increase overall during the 2012-2013 year, according to the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia. However some universities — most notably Virginia Commonwealth University, Norfolk State University and Virginia State University — saw significant declines. It’s dangerous to draw conclusions from one year’s worth of data, however, so those numbers may or may not reflect longer-term trends.

Juday also notes that Hispanic and African-American children will constitute a growing share of the college-bound population. Insofar as those two demographic groups have been less likely to attend college than non-Hispanic whites, whether due to lower average income or other reasons, the changing racial make-up of the student population may crimp enrollments as well.

Combine declining enrollments with relentlessly increasing tuition, fees and other college expenses, and it’s hard to see how even Virginia’s vaunted undergraduate higher-ed system will be able to maintain its numbers. Norfolk State and Virginia State have been experiencing well-publicized difficulties. Don’t be surprised to see problems surfacing at other institutions, especially those that have borrowed heavily to build new facilities.

Update: The National Center for Educational Statistics projects that enrollment growth at American colleges and universities will increase by three million between 2012 and 2022. That represents a considerable slowdown from the past, but an increase nonetheless. The projections do not account, however, for “the cost of a college education, the economic value of an education, and the impact of distance learning due to technological changes.” (Hat tip: Matt Thornhill.)


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4 responses to “How Long Can Virginia Colleges Defy the Enrollment Turndown?”

  1. Well many other states are moving on. In Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Haslem signed a bill providing free tuition for Tennesseans attending the state’s community colleges while continuing to offer the Hope scholarship of $4,500 per year for Tennesseans attenging instate four year colleges public and private. They take the money from the lottery profits which keep increasing.
    In California Governor Brown signed a bill allowing 15 community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees.
    In Indiana new Purdue University President Mitch Daniels announced a freezing of tuition through 2015 and cutting food and other costs while offering Purdue students the option of a three year bachelor’s degree. A new study by Johns Hopkins indicates that a three year bachelor’s degree would save student 25% in the cost of securing a bachelor’s degree.
    Movements in Florida, Texas and Oregon would lead to community colleges offering bachelor’s degrees.
    America, for example, now is way behind Russia in education of the work force. The international organization O. E.C.D recently reported the following: “Russia now has the largest percentage of adults with a university education of any industrialized country “ — a position once held by the United States, although we’re plunging in that roster.”
    So Virginia and the USA have a long way to go to catch up. And no one in state government will admit we have a challenge…at a time when federal military spending is dropping.
    Where is the over arching economic strategy for the Commonwealth?

  2. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Figures are only preliminary, but it looks like enrollment in VA (full and part time students combined) may drop below 400,000 for the first time in several years. Came up at the SCHEV meeting yesterday and got noted in today’s T-D. Norfolk State and Virginia State are both down by about 10 percent, the other schools are mixed. But there is no reason for Virginia to expect to avoid the double pressures of the rising net cost of higher education and the birth rate changes already evident. Some of the states in the northeast with higher birth rate drops are the main source of all those out-of-state students paying the highest tuitions. I concur – we keep doing what we’re doing now and the likely outcome is not pretty. The massive investments in education made for my parent’s generation, including the GI Bill, and for my generation, when public college tuition was very reasonable, have carried us this far — but the attitude now seems to be that higher education is something the families or students need to pay or borrow for, with ever shrinking taxpayer investment.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Steve. I’ll be posting on that SCHEV meeting shortly.

      Readers, please note that Steve serves on the SCHEV board. For what it’s worth, he was quoted in the T-D article: “In my mind, we are giving them our blessing to raise tuition.”

  3. Hollandaise Avatar

    Maybe Virginians should choose other options besides the traditional university solution, such as working hard, saving, applying for small business assistance, or joining the military. Take a close look at the policies of the universities themselves, which too often promote anti-American, anti-Christian values that destroy the souls of the students who attend there.

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