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A few years ago, Nathan Grawe sounded the alarm for public higher education around the implications of the 2008 recession for enrollments 18 years later. He showed that birth rates dropped significantly in the U.S. during the Great Recession and never really came back; I’m guessing they dropped again during the pandemic. Since we can predict with confidence how long it takes someone to turn 18, we can project a drop-off in the number of 18-year-olds to hit around roughly 2026. That isn’t very far away.

After the pandemic hit, Grawe’s predictions took a back seat. But over the last couple of years, we’ve moved closer to the 2026 drop-off; ignoring it has not made it go away. Kids born in 2008 turn 14 this year; it won’t be long before they hit traditional college age.

I haven’t seen a lot of really serious discussion among community colleges (or regional publics, for that matter) about preparing for that.

To be fair, the declines in high school populations aren’t evenly spread across the country. They’re particularly concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest. But even here, I haven’t seen much in the way of policy discussions around it.

At this point, the demographic cliff is within the time frame of a typical strategic plan.

Wise and worldly readers, are you seeing serious discussions of the demographic cliff on your campus? If so, are the discussions productive? I’d love to steal ideas from places that are handling the issue particularly well.

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