November 1, 2007

C.U. Plans for Drop in N.Y. High School Grads

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While Cornell’s admittance rate has hit an all time low, a predicted 14.5 percent decrease in the number of high school graduates in New York State over the next eight years may threaten the health of many universities in the area. Recently released statistics by the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities suggest that a number of factors, including the end of the current college generation, the increasing population of minorities and migration out of New York State, may cause some universities to lack the number of students they hope to enroll by 2009.
Most predict that Cornell’s admissions will not be heavily affected.
“Cornell is very well positioned to handle this decline in high school graduates,” said Ron Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations, trustee, and a former vice president of Cornell. “The University anticipated that this would be happening years ago and has successfully expanded its recruitment from other parts of the country and the world.”
Ehrenberg noted that less than one third of Cornellians hail from inside the state.
Preparations for the future are also underway in a project that Jason Locke, director of undergraduate admissions, calls “class of 2015.”
“Back in 2002, we began looking closely at demographic data and developed strategies in recognition of Cornell’s need to develop new markets,” said Locke in an email. “We invested in recruitment efforts in the west, southwest, and southeast (where we saw tremendous growth potential). In fact, we moved an admission officer position to the West Coast.”
With investments in recruiting from international markets as well as domestically, Locke believes that Cornell can “weather the storm” of the decline in high school graduates.
“The only consequence that I expect for highly selective schools like Cornell is that they will be competing with slightly better schools for the students admitted by multiple institutions,” added John Abowd, industrial and labor relations and director the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research.
Less than 45 minutes away sits SUNY Cortland, a university whose admissions will be much more heavily affected by the decrease in high school graduates. Because SUNY schools enroll only 7% of their students from outside New York, the dwindling student applicant pool may mean less students enrolled, according to Abe Lackman, president of CICU.
“Right now we have more than enough students, but we anticipate a shortfall,” said Jennifer Wilson, assistant director of public relations for SUNY Cortland. “We are putting together a marketing campaign as a way for the college to promote itself and put its best foot forward.”
Dan Lichter, policy analysis and management, said that the SUNY schools have an important challenge ahead of them.
“The student body [of SUNY schools] will probably have much more diversity,” Lichter said. “They must cast a broader net beyond New York State and that is where the challenge will lie.”
One solution, says Warren Brown, a senior researcher at CISER, is that schools can “beef up their financial aid packages” in order to attract students.
While it seems that Cornell will most likely experience little fluctuation in its admissions numbers, the question arises as to how this statistic will affect the amount of donations to Cornell by alumni. Brown notes that these changing demographics could work to cause more giving. He said that people who come from a smaller generation usually have an easier time ascending the job ladder, landing them in better positions to give.
“Large cohorts don’t make out as well as small cohorts. The small number of children of the baby bust generation might be better rewarded by the labor market,” Brown said.
So what is causing this decrease in the number of high school graduates? A number of reasons have been hypothesized by a CICU presentation entitled “Independent Sector Demographic Destiny.”
The main cause for the decrease is a generally smaller amount of children being born. Following the post World War II baby boom generation was the baby bust generation, a much smaller crowd. Now that the echo baby boomers are finishing up school, the echo baby bust generation is entering higher education, according to Brown. A similar transition from boomers to busters that happened about 30 years ago is happening once again. Since 1995, high school kindergarten enrollment has gone down by 37,000 kids, leading to smaller graduating classes of high schoolers, according to the CICU study.
While the number of entering kindergarteners has gone down all over the Northeast, the Southeast, Southwest and Rocky Mountain regions are all experiencing a growth in the number of students. The amount of high school graduates is expected to decline 14.5% in New York State, but the national rate of decline is only predicted at 4.6%. This leads to the implication of migration out of New York, which has long been an issue upstate.
“If there is not employment, there is often an exodus,” Brown said, adding that upstate New York, which is somewhat economically depressed, may have an effect on this migration.
The study also cites a loftier number of minorities in the high schools of New York State compared to ten years ago. While graduation rates across all races and ethnicities are going up, minorities still tend to have a lower percentage of high school graduates.
“When these minority rates are coupled with the growth of minority enrollment in New York’s high school student body, it signals a decline in the pool of traditional college students,” the study says.
The changing of the generations, migratory patterns and higher minority enrollment in high school, along with a variety of other factors, are all expected to contribute to the predicted 14.5% decline in high school graduates.
While some universities may need to rearrange their marketing and recruitment strategies to acquiesce to this changing demographic, they can take solace in the fact that the echo trend is not as bad as the original change from boom to bust.
“The echo was delayed … and it was gentler [than the original transition],” Abowd said. “We are unlikely to experience anything like it again, at least in [our] lifetimes.”