High school graduating classes are likely to be both smaller and more diverse in the future, predicts a new report from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. After nearly two decades of growth, the number of high school graduates in the U.S. is expected to decline – although modestly – and will also show an ethnic and racial change that will reflect an increasingly diverse population.
The 8th edition of the report, titled Knocking at the College Door: Projections of High School Graduates, concludes that the upcoming changes will have an impact on efforts to increase the number of college graduates, which remains a key objective in an effort to future-proof the American economy.
Other findings include a prediction that coming at the end of a steady 15 years of growth, the number of high school graduates has entered a decline after peaking in 2010-2011.
This decline is expected to be mild and of short duration and is expected to stabilize in 2013-14. There will follow a period of stability, with the next period of significant growth not projected until at least 2020-21.
“These two trends will define the ‘new normal’ for our colleges and universities—and will require those of us working in higher education to change the way we do business,” says David Longanecker, president of WICHE, which published Knocking at the College Door, with support from ACT and the College Board. “Institutions will no longer be able to rely on growth in the number of traditional-aged students to boost funding. At the same time, the changing demographics of our high school graduating classes will mean greater demand for a college education from students we traditionally have not served well.”
These numbers will not be consistent throughout the country. While the Midwest and the Northeast is expected to account for most of the decline during this period, southern states are likely to actually experience student growth. This means that in the coming decade their resources are likely to be stretched to the limit, attempting to accommodate the additional students.
The problems that will be faced by states where student population is declining will likely involve raising enough funding to maintain the education infrastructure already in place.
The report echoes the general conclusions that so many in education, from early childhood to graduate/professional levels, have used to drive their advocacy — that a changing world will only be navigated well by those with a high level of formal education.
“Higher education must commit to finding innovative, cost-effective ways to prepare those students to succeed in our 21st century global economy.”