The demographics of declining college enrollment

Education_College Student

Despite a rise in high school graduation rates, college enrollment is dropping from its 2011 peak, leaving many small colleges scrambling.  Here in Virginia, enrollment has largely been steady, but two small colleges closed in the last two years, and others have sounded the alarm on declining enrollment or missed targeted growth.  Every struggling college certainly has its own history and unique problems.  But larger trends always pick off stragglers.  In Warren Buffet’s words, “when the tide goes out, you find out who’s been swimming naked.”  And the tide appears to be going out.  A rash of articles has addressed the subject, with some of the leading culprits being the improved economy and job prospects for those without degrees.

But the big factor that doesn’t seem to be well-understood is simple population math.  College attendance has climbed over the years to the point where an overwhelming majority of American young people will enroll in college of some kind at some point.  This makes college enrollment extremely sensitive to fluctuations in the number of young people available.  The generation currently in college or recently out of it is one of the largest this country has managed to produce.  It’s no wonder there was a spike in enrollment, recession or no, back in 2008-09 if one looks at the number of Americans who were just reaching 18-19 years of age.  Since then those numbers have fallen sharply and will continue to fall more slowly for the foreseeable future as the U.S. birth rate hovers below replacement (on a positive note, most of that decline is attributable to a precipitous decline in teen pregnancy).

Here is the United States’ population by age from 2010-2013.

All

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A funny thing is happening in many US cities

An article at the Urbanophile gives us a helpful graphic explaining the old and new “Donut” conceptions of the city.  In the “Old Donut,” we have an impoverished central city with a ring of thriving suburbs around it.

OldDonutAn example of that model appears in this graph, which shows the percentage of adults over 25 with college degrees in the Charlotte, NC metro area in 1990.  The x-axis is distance from the center of downtown.

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The Line that Divides DC

No it’s not a party line.  It’s an almost perfectly straight line running north-south along 16th Street, passing through the White House, and then continuing along the Potomac River to the south.  It divides two very different sides of the DC area.

These graphs are a cross-section of the DC area that looks at how the city changes as you travel from the center to the periphery.  I’ve split the graphs into two sides based on the east-west dividing line.  You’ll notice the first one or two miles to the east are much like their western counterparts (this is essentially the area around Capitol Hill and the National Mall).  After that, the two sides diverge pretty dramatically.DCEW Continue reading

What’s Driving the Rise in High School Graduation Rates?

Much of the news that circulates regarding the state of education is not positive, but one trend that remains underreported is the significant rise in public high school graduation rates during the past decade. By the end of this month, around 85,000 high school seniors are expected to have graduated from Virginia’s public schools.That is nearly 8,000 more than would have been expected to graduate just a few years ago.
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Metropolitan Cross-Sections: College Graduates

With input from Hamilton, I’ve been looking recently at how metropolitan areas change as one travels from the center to the periphery.  The following charts show the percent of the population 25 and older with bachelor’s degrees.  The graphs are based on concentric rings coming out from the center of downtown.  I’ve included reference maps with distances and put lines on the graphs to correspond to the circles on the map.

It’s important to note that this is for adults who are 25 and older.  While college towns have high numbers of educated residents and that shows up on the graphs, these numbers do not include actual undergraduate students or recent graduates.

Data for 1990 and 2000 comes from the long-form census.  Data for 2012 is from the American Community Survey’s 2008-2012 5-year estimates.  The census long form survey disappeared after the 2000 census, so questions that would have been on the long form (like education level) are now collected as part of the American Community Survey.

Washington, D.C.

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Education in Virginia: Doing it at home

Father helping his son with homework

Three decades ago homeschooling in Virginia was legally questionable and rare. But since the Code of Virginia was amended in 1984 to specifically allow for homeschooling, the number of children educated at home has grown steadily. When the Virginia Department of Education first began counting the number of homeschool students in 1989, there were 3,000 students. In 2012, there were 33,000, making up more than a quarter of all children not enrolled in public school in Virginia.  Continue reading

As more families choose cities, governments are returning to the drawing board

Urban areas import the young and export the old, the theory goes, or went. For decades, young people have come to Virginia’s urban areas to go to university or work, often moving out again when their children require more space or education, or when they retire. But, since the mid 2000s, a demographic change has slowed the conveyor belt of movement in and out of cities. More young families are staying in Virginia’s urban areas to raise their children and enroll them in local schools, fueling the strongest population growth many of Virginia’s urban areas have experienced since the 1950s.

Though many young couples in the past have started families while they lived in urban areas, a good number would move to suburban counties before enrolling their children in school. In urban school divisions such as Arlington County and Fredericksburg, fewer than 60 percent of children born in 1999 showed up in first grade in 2005. The large number of young families moving into suburban school divisions caused many more children to enroll in first grade in counties such as Spotsylvania and Chesterfield than were born there six years earlier.2005 Ratio

Source: Virginia Department of Education Fall Count, Virginia Department of Health Live Births, tabulated by the Weldon Cooper Center

Today, many parents are staying put in urban areas, thanks to stricter mortgage regulations that make it hard for buyers to get a loan, and a difficult labor market that makes it hard for anyone to be sure of a job. One-third as many homes were sold in 2012 as in 2005 in Virginia. During the same period, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that the number of Virginia families with children who live in a rented  residence has increased 15 percent.

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“Breadwinner” Moms in Virginia: Distinct Populations

As Becky explained in her recent post, last month’s Pew report, Breadwinner Moms, finds that, in 2011, forty percent of American households with children under the age of 18 had the mother as the primary or sole earner.  The report goes on to parse this number, indicating that, of this population, about one-third are married women who out-earn their spouses and two-thirds are single mothers.

In Virginia, the numbers are reflective of the national trend: using the same approach as Pew to examine 2011 American Community Survey, we see that forty one percent of Virginia households with children under 18 have a woman as the primary “breadwinner”. Forty three percent of this group (or about 134,000 households) have wives earning more than their husbands, while fifty seven percent (or about 174,200) are headed by unmarried mothers.

As mentioned in various media critiques, these two groups of earners are different enough to treat as entirely different populations.  In this post, the first of three on this topic, I look at some of the key differences between these two groups of mothers, and examine earnings trends relative to these differences. Continue reading