Declining US birth rate could beget lower public school enrollment, closures
- The U.S. birth rate has dipped to an all-time low, and projections show a potentially grim effect on schools: The number of public school students could drop by 8.5% by 2028, according to The Hechinger Report.
- Schools across the country could close, and full-day kindergarten and publicly funded pre-K options could increase, notes Mike Griffith, a school finance specialist at think tank Education Commission of the States. Teachers could also see a smaller labor market, and rural areas would likely get hit the hardest.
- While the nation's birth rate is declining, some districts may still see increases in enrollment, and it's possible that immigration could balance out shrinking numbers. But more schools will likely close anyway, leaving districts to rely more heavily on resources like online courses but with even smaller budgets than before, Griffith told The Hechinger Report.
An increase in school closures and a declining population can be attributed to factors inside and outside the education bubble. As the article notes, the U.S. birth rate is a key piece of the puzzle. This rate has proved to be inconsistent over long periods of time, but as a whole, it's experienced a decline since the Great Recession in 2008. Spikes and dips revealed fluctuations in elements like the economy and population, as well as a few key social factors. Most notably, women are putting off marriage and motherhood to further their education and prioritize their careers. The bottom line: If there are fewer births, there are fewer children going to school.
Within the education industry, a few other factors could be influencing Griffith's predictions. For one, an increase in charter schools, vouchers for private schools and an overall movement toward school choice have given public schools plenty of competition. And if more students are enrolling in these schools, fewer are left to attend public schools.
If there are fewer public school students, these schools and districts will likely get less funding to support classrooms and necessary resources. School budgets are already small, and even less money to spend could have drastic effects on the quality of education these remaining students receive. That, combined with insufficient amounts of students to keep elementary, middle and high schools up and running, could force them to shut their doors for good.
Higher education also stands to be affected by this trend. A declining birth rate, one economist predicts, could lead the college-going population to drop by 15% between 2025 and 2029 — and keep dropping after that. The nation's top schools and elite institutions likely won't see as big of a decline in demand, but other segments of schools — including less-elite options, regional schools serving local populations or geographic regions like the Northeast — are predicted to face serious losses, the article says.
- The Hechinger Report The number of public school students could fall by more than 8% in a decade
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