Trends Affecting College Enrollment: Part 1 (5/28/14)

The period 1997 through 2010 was in some respects a golden age for higher education. The college age demographic group increased by 21% and college-age enrollment increased by 50%. This was cause by the children of the baby boom generation, and the wealth that generation accumulated.

However, this rapid growth in the college-age demographic peaked in 2010 and since then has been declining rather noticeably. The future decline will be so significant that over the next decade (in particular by the year 2022) the same college age segment of the population is expected to decrease in size by 4% and enrollment will increase by only 14%, rather than 50%.

Georgia is at the cutting edge of the demographic trends

Georgia’s enrollment may not decline in line with the national trend. The attractiveness of Metropolitan Atlanta has the potential to offset the otherwise downward demographic trend in Georgia college enrollment. This is because the population of Metropolitan Atlanta’s is expected to increase by well over 20% between 2010 and 2020. This rapid increase is primarily attributable to continue in-migration of the domestic population from other regions of the country to Atlanta.

For example, consider what happened over the last three academic years. In the 2011/2012 academic year undergraduate enrollment in Georgia declined by 4.4%. In the 2012/2013 academic year, enrollment declined by 2.2%. Finally in the fall of 2013, enrollment was down only 1.6%. It is believed (but not yet proven) that the tapering off in the decline is attributable to domestic in-migrants relocating to the Atlanta from other areas of the country.

Changing demographics might affect college education in other ways.

Consider Georgia for example. The changing racial and ethnic demographics may have a significant effect on enrollment and the balance of political power, and thereby influence resource allocation for college-bound students.

In 2001, Georgia’s electorate was 72% non-Hispanic white, 26% black and 2% Hispanic. Today, non-Hispanic whites makeup 55% of the population, and less than 60% of registered voters. Over the last decade, the State’s nonwhite population increased by 7%, but the State’s Hispanic population increased by 66%. Blacks now comprise 31.,2% of the population, Hispanics comprise 9.2%, and Asians comprise 3.5%.

More interestingly, non-Hispanic whites comprise 55% of the State’s population but 73% of Georgia’s residents who are 60 years of age and older.

In comparison, Blacks comprise 31% of the total population, but only 22% of the 60 years and older age group, while Hispanics comprise 9% of the total population, but only 2.2% of the older demographic group.

It is important to note that while the demographic changes may have a clear positive enrollment impacts on primary and secondary schooling, it is not clear how they will play out at the postsecondary level.

This is because the median income of blacks and Hispanics is 62% and 64% respectively of the median income of white. Furthermore, net wealth of these two groups has declined significantly and is only 10% of the wealth of whites.

This income and wealth deficit makes rising college tuition increasingly less affordable for Georgia’s expanding minority population.