The Enrollment Slide

We’ve become a nation accustomed to top-line data and headline news.  In-depth investigation and reporting on why issues arise are left to those who want to dig deeper themselves.  After all, they can do so by accessing the Internet.

Because, as you know, everything on the Internet is truth. (Yes, the sarcasm is intentional).

If you Google “Declining Enrollment,” the top stories that appear deal with the declining number of students attending college.  In them, college officials cite many reasons why colleges may not be enrolling more students – fear of debt from tuition, difficult economic times, changes in population, the desires of today’s college student for the college “experience” rather than simply a place to further their education, etc.

No one says this was an expected phenomenon since, as you can see from the featured image for this article, the public school student population may be on the decline.  Therefore, it seems that the rationale is quite simple: fewer students in the K-12 experience will lead to fewer students in college.  Why is the K-12 student population declining?  Lower birth rates and difficult economic times are cited by a number of resources.

It’s interesting that the possibility of a fewer number of parents of school-aged children than there have been in the past isn’t cited as a potential reason.  After all, back in 1973, abortion was legalized in this country, and 30 years later, in 2003, those children that would have existed could be having their children enter the K-12 experience.  Simply put, fewer parents means fewer children.  Combine that with the continuing “less than replacement” factor of the average family, since the average family in the United States is 3.13 persons (Source:, and declining enrollment may be become a trend, and then the norm.  The more frightening ramification is a declining tax base, since students will eventually become those who contribute to the economy of this nation.

When you look at private and faith-based schools, however, some K-12 schools are having success in attracting students, while others lament the fact that their schools are shrinking, with higher numbers of students in the primary grades, but fewer and fewer students in the “middle school” environment, and ultimately, high school.  In the typical PK-8 faith-based school, there may be 20 or 30 kindergarten students, but only 5 or 6 eighth graders.

My question to schools that ask why that happens is a simple one?  “Who’s responsible for enrollment?  Is there an admissions or enrollment director for your PK-8 faith-based school?”  Usually, the answer is no, even though there might be a development director to seek out funds for financial aid.  It’s quite fascinating to discover that there’s no one responsible for enrollment when a new student could bring four or five thousand dollars in tuition revenue to a school, yet a fund-raising event for a school (like a candy sale) is celebrated when it raises $2,000.

As author Jim Collins states in his work, “Good to Great,” (2001) “People play differently when they keep score.” When metrics are important, they need to be tracked and analyzed.  More importantly, though, they need to be researched to discover the “why” behind the trends.  Sometimes, we know the “why;” we just need to be reminded of it.