What the looming demographic storm means for your state

By Afia Tasneem

Enrollment leaders are by now all-too-familiar with higher education’s challenging outlook: the number of college-going students is projected to decrease by 12% over the next decade due to a sharp drop in fertility following the Great Recession. This decline in fertility, known as the “birth dearth,” was so abrupt and substantial in nature that it will lead us to fall off a demographic cliff after 2025. Between 2025 and 2029, the number of college-going students will decline by 15%—that’s over 400,000 fewer students in a span of four years, an average loss of 100,000 students per year.1

Enrollment decline graph

What’s more, the profiles of our students are changing. They are becoming more diverse, with a greater range of academic ability and higher financial need. It will be more challenging—and expensive—to recruit and retain these students, just when pressures mount on government funding from other sectors, such as healthcare and social security.

How can higher education leaders prepare for this potential enrollment crisis?

Institutions need better data and more specific regional information to be able to plan effectively. In markets that are inherently local for most institutions, the national forecasts with the accompanying doom-and-gloom narrative only help so much. National averages conceal crucial regional differences. Consider this: between 2017 and 2029, enrollment in four-year institutions will increase by six percent in California, while enrollment in Arkansas drops by 35%.

To support institutional planning and better inform decision-making, EAB’s Enrollment Management Forum has developed state-level dashboards to give you an overview of demographic, affordability, and funding trends for all 50 states and D.C. The State Outlooks are divided into three sections.

Section 1: Demographic Trends

Using data from Nathan Grawe’s Higher Education Demographic Index, the first page provides projected figures of college-going students from 2017 to 2029, breaking them down by demographic characteristics and by the institution type they are anticipated to attend.

Section 2: Affordability Trends

The second page highlights affordability metrics for states benchmarked against other states. How does the median income in your state compare against the national average? Are your state's institutions less affordable to the typical family than institutions in neighboring states? What kind of loan burdens are your graduates carrying?

Section 3: Funding and Appropriations Trends

Finally, it’s especially important for public institutions to be aware of trends in funding and appropriations. Is your dependency on tuition increasing over time or leveling off? Can you make a case to your state legislature to allocate more tax revenue to higher education?

1Based on projections from Nathan Grawe’s Higher Education Demand Index available here: https://people.carleton.edu/~ngrawe/HEDI.htm. Accessed 2.7.2019.

Uncover the demographic, affordability, and funding trends in your state

Use our latest Enrollment Management State Outlooks to dive deeper into the trends and pressures specific to your state and the states where you target recruitment efforts. Further, use the Outlooks to facilitate a more data-driven approach in cabinet-level meetings and discussions with boards and university leadership.

Access the State Outlooks

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