College admissions are about to drop in a big way, in another shock-wave from the 2008 recession.
Beginning in 2008, the US, which had seen a long period of shallowly dropping birthrate, saw that slope suddenly careen downwards. In the space of five years, the annual rate of births went from 13.8 per 1000 people to 12.5, a huge decline. In 2007, there were 4.3 million births in the U.S.. In 2021, only 3.7 million.
The cause is no mystery; 2008 was the start of the Great Recession and, faced with unpredictable economic pressures, many fewer people chose to have children. The children of 2008 are 14 now, beginning high school. And when they graduate in four years, their small numbers will spell trouble for institutions of higher learning.
“The enrollment cliff,” as some people in the education industry are calling the inevitable decline in college admissions, is going to hit state schools hard in the wallet, and community colleges hardest of all.
If enrollment dips too far, many institutions may simply close. This is already happening, with online classes seeing less and less engagement during the pandemic. In 2007, Edinboro College on Lake Erie spent $115 million to build new dorms. In 2008 when they opened, the small college had almost 9,000 student. Las year, it had only 4,000, and the new dorms were empty and for sale. Another Midwest college, Marlboro College, had to be sold to a charter school entrepreneur.
Going by birth rate, we will not begin to see an increase in college admissions until 2039, and that only if we do not see a revolution in higher learning between now and then. And a revolution is overdue, with too-high tuitions everywhere, the collapse of several major for-profit school franchises, student loans with capitalized interest, and this population drop.
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