This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Changing Demographics of Education

My thanks to Duane Miller for alerting me to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing (perhaps lamenting?) the impact that the changing demographics in the US might have on private liberal arts colleges (and universities more generally).
Demographic projections have inspired doomsayers and daydreamers alike. The sky-is-falling contingent says the declining number of white, affluent high-school graduates will sink many tuition-dependent colleges. Meanwhile, optimistic observers predict that population shifts will compel institutions to transform themselves by embracing underrepresented students like never before.
As any admissions officer could tell you, the number of high-school graduates in several Midwestern and Northeastern states will drop sharply over the next decade, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Nationally, the number of black and white students will decline, and the number of Hispanic and Asian-American graduates will increase significantly. The nation's already seeing a sharp rise in first-generation and low-income graduates—the very students whom selective four-year institutions have long struggled to serve.
In my view, the situation is far more complex than this article implies. While the number of affluent white students graduating from high school may be on the way down, the number of students is not declining. Furthermore, we have a growing need for better educated young people who can become economically productive, at the same time that the public is shying away from funding public schools to the extent required. This is pushing costs up at public as well as private colleges and universities. In theory, there should be no difference in the cost of educating someone at either a public or a private university--the difference is in the extent to which taxpayers subsidize the public universities. I am at a large state-"assisted" university in which we are able annually to accept fewer than ten percent of the students who apply. 

A bigger issue, in my mind, is teacher preparation for the K-12 years. Almost all education at this level is taxpayer supported and we simply don't reward these teachers sufficiently well to be able to recruit the best and brightest. For decades the local schools were able to attract highly talented women to teach for not very much money because there were not many other options available to them. That is no longer true, yet we pretend that it is. In my view--and in the view of many of the people commenting on this Chronicle article--we need to worry less about college and more about K-12. But to find the money to do this gets us back to our increasing income inequality--who can (or will) pay the bill?

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