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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Monday, January 8, 2018

Are U.S. Colleges About to Face a Drop in Prospective Students?

Thanks to my son, Greg Weeks of UNC Charlotte, for pointing me to an article in InsideHigherEd reviewing a new book about the demographics of higher education. 
Optimists and plenty of others in higher education may be concerned by Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press), in which Nathan D. Grawe suggests a bleak outlook for most institutions when it comes to attracting and enrolling students.
 Grawe is a professor of economics at Carleton College--a small liberal arts college in Minnesota. Although he's not a member of the Population Association of America, the book uses demographic data in a seemingly new and innovative way to estimate not just the number of people becoming of the age to go to college, but also the probability that they will apply for college, and the kind of college (e.g., community college, four-year, elite, etc) to which they are likely to apply.
He starts with generally accepted figures that show the (traditional) college-age population dropping in the Northeast and Midwest by about 5 percent by the mid-2020s. But he then tracks birth rates and finds that the economic downturn that started around 2008 led many people to delay starting families. The impact, starting around 2026, could mean a loss of 15 percent of the typical college-going population.
And if that's not enough to scare admissions leaders (and perhaps to give college counselors in high schools more confidence on getting students in), Grawe developed a formula called the Higher Education Demand Index, or HEDI. This applies demographic trends to college-going rates. Rather than assuming the same rates in the future as today, Grawe looks at the rates for different socioeconomic groups. Those groups who will make up a growing share of the population tend to have lower college-going rates, on average, than groups whose share of the population will be shrinking. Based on his index, the outlook should scare most nonelite colleges.
I have not read the book, so I'm not in a position to know if I would agree with his methods and conclusions. What I do know is that here at San Diego State University we just had a record 93,610 applications for admission this coming Fall. Only a few thousand of those will actually wind up being enrolled in the Fall, so presumably the rest will go elsewhere--albeit probably not the Northeast or Midwest. 

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