Independent Schools at the Cliff

The well-documented demographic cliff facing higher education–after 2025, the annual number of graduating high school seniors in the United States will decline rather steeply–is something that keeps every university president and enrollment manager awake at night. According to Othot, a predictive analytics consultancy in higher education, the supply of college-going high school graduates emerging from US high schools will shrink by 15% from 2025-2029.

The US will go over the cliff for structural reasons; there are few high school graduates because there will be fewer high schoolers, owing to the birth rate drop in the 2008-09 recession. What makes this structural shift particularly troublesome is that the usual rebound in national birth rate following a recession never happened. Indeed, after 2008-09, the rate fell even further. So, universities that are already reeling from the effects of COVID-19 on both the revenue and expense sides of their budgets will get little relief for at least the next decade.

Triangle mined demographic data to see whether a similar future awaits the K-12 sector, and the national-level results are sobering at best. In the decade just ended, the school-age population dropped by 1.12%, a small decline to be sure, but just enough to seriously tighten the enrollment market given the proliferation of new alternative school forms.

Looking ahead to the 2020-25 interval, the decline accelerates in every age band, most ominously in the 0 to 4 years group which is our intermediate term future. What this reveals is that our sector, too, is in a demographic trough, and that survival thriving requires making smart strategic choices now. We will write more in future posts about how we see the choices shaping up and about how these demographics look by region. Stay tuned!

Business and leadership, Governance, Headship, Strategy  |  permalink

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