Notes from NACAC 2017: Demographic Shifts Will Reshape the College Admissions Landscape
The most fascinating session I attended at the annual conference of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling was entitled “Peering into the Crystal Ball: Selective College Admission in 2025.” The most powerful insights came from Peace Bransberger, a senior research analyst with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education who presented findings from the demographic study, Knocking At the College Door. By 2032, changes to the ethnic and racial composition of our nation as well as to the geographic distribution of our population will reshape higher education in America.
In 2032, the US is slated to have slightly fewer high school graduates than today (a modest decline of 2.6%), but the changes in composition of the graduating classes will be more pronounced. The number of Caucasian public school graduates is set to decline by 10% from current measurements; the number of Hispanic graduates will increase by 13% and Asian American/Pacific Islanders will increase by 32%. Hispanic graduates, who numbered only 296k in 2001, will rise to 791k by 2032 – increasing from 12% to 26% of the total population of public school graduates.
Researchers are concerned that this shift could affect college attendance patterns as Hispanic students are less likely than their peers to travel or leave home for college. Additionally, Hispanic students are more likely to be first-generation college students, as only ¼ of Hispanic students have a parent with an Associate’s degree or higher.
US High school graduates
|School Year||GRAND TOTAL||PRIVATE SCHOOLS TOTAL||PUBLIC SCHOOLS
|change from present||-3%||-17%||-1%|
US High school graduates by race/ethnicity
|School Year||Hispanic||Caucasian||African American||American Indian/Alaska Native||Asian/Pacific Islander|
|change from present||13%||-10%||-2%||-22%||32%|
The changes to our ethnic and racial demographics will also shift the economic landscape for colleges and universities. In 2015, the median annual income for an Asian American family was $77k, $63k for a Caucasian family, $45k for a Hispanic family and $37k for an African American family. Unless we achieve greater economic parity across racial and ethnic groups, the redistribution of graduates will likely create fiscal challenges for post-secondary institutions. Bransberger also mentioned that class issues will be more pronounced in the future. By 2032 America will have 100,000 fewer households with above average incomes and 460,000 additional households with lower than average incomes. In this environment, many colleges and universities will be scrambling to find enough full-pay students to make their budgets work.
Just as post-secondary institutions will be challenged, secondary schools will be similarly affected. Private high schools, given their demographic make-up, will have particular struggles. The study forecast a 25% decline in private high school graduates between now and 2032. Private school attendance peaked in 2008 with a total of 314,000 graduates, but is slated to drop to 222,000 by 2032. How many private high schools will have to close their doors or dramatically shift their model given these developments?
As in many industrialized nations, the fertility rate in the US is down: families are having fewer children. The US birth rate in 2017 was the lowest in recorded history, and would put us below the replacement rate, leading to a net population decline, were it not for the steady influx of immigrants into our country. Immigration in the US tends to favor certain geographies, particularly the south and the west. Immigration coupled with the allure of easy winters and rising economic opportunity will give the south and the west a population advantage in the coming decades. While the number of high school graduates from the south and the west will continue to grow, the Midwest and the Northeast will experience net decreases. According to the study, states like Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, with low birth rates (fertility rates of 1.58, 1.59, 1.64 respectively) and low rates of immigration, will lose 10-20% of their HS student population in the next 10 years.
The geographic changes will have ripple effects on the national stage. If the high school graduate rate drops 20% in certain states, the effects will be far reaching. Private high schools will see enrollment drops, and some will be forced to merge with other schools or close their doors. Colleges in those areas, dependent upon their crop of local high school graduates will enter a challenging period. In the current educational climate, many private colleges are forced to heavily discount tuition to attract students: this trend will increase, and may become unsustainable. Public colleges and universities may start to behave more like private colleges in efforts to fill their seats, and begin to play the discounting game. And college representatives in these dwindling regions will have to reach further afield, traveling farther from their geographies to attract students. This is already happening.
Some colleges and universities may try to make up the gap with international students (Janet Rapelye, the representative from Princeton alluded to this strategy), but this may prove difficult. The current educational climate for students seeking to attend college in the US has become less welcoming of late. And other nations are now aggressively recruiting and enrolling students who would have otherwise sought out a post-secondary education in the US. If we don’t create a welcoming climate for international students, students who have more options than at any time in history, many will choose to shift their education dollars away from the US market.
Given the changes coming to American higher education, investor’s services such as Moody’s predict hard times ahead for many colleges and universities and forecast that we may see closures triple to 15 schools per year.
The research presented at NACAC is bound to have a significant impact on the educational landscape. The graduating class of 2032 has already been born, and we need to start thinking today about how we can make their future as bright as possible. So many of the troubling findings from this study result from economic and social inequalities in America. The research assumes a steady-state model. But we as a society could do better to narrow the social and economic gaps that exist. If challenges are coming, it’s good that we face them, anticipate them, and do our best to navigate the changing waters as skillfully as we can.