||Unprecedented Enrollment Growth
States that experience substantial budget shortfalls within this decade will face a situation quite different from that in the last recession: the new fiscal constraints will come during a period of growing enrollment demand. (During the 1990s recession, in contrast, higher education enrollments were relatively stable.) Over the next 10 years the student body will also become increasingly more diverse.
The number of high school graduates began to increase in the mid-1990s and will continue to increase through 2008, when the nation will graduate the largest public high school class in its history--3.2 million students--exceeding the class of 1979, the peak year of the baby boom, by more than 60,000 graduates. The class of 2008 will include 332,000 graduates from private high schools (an increase of about 30% over the mid-1990s).19
Having more high school graduates will mean, of course, more college applicants, and the nation's colleges and universities are expected to experience unprecedented enrollment growth over the next 10 years. The Department of Education estimates that total college enrollment will grow from 14.8 million students in 1999 to 17.7 million in 2011, an increase of some 20%.20 The new enrollments will not be evenly distributed across the country, however. Some states will experience little change or even decreases. Others, particularly on the Pacific coast and in the Southwest and Southeast will have to find places for substantially higher numbers of prospective college enrollees.21 The projections do not assume dramatic improvements in high school graduation rates. Should public school reforms prove successful, the numbers graduating from high school and enrolling in college would exceed projections. Several states that will be most challenged to accommodate additional enrollments already suffer from low college participation rates.
The principal question for public higher education will be how to accommodate additional students without commensurate additional state support. But the problem of absolute growth will be compounded by the greater diversity of the students; many states are likely to see increases in both the absolute numbers and relative proportions of potential students from low-income families and from ethnic groups with historically low participation rates. For example, between 1990 and 1998 the Hispanic population in Arizona increased by 50%; in California, by 31%; and in Florida, by 43%. Over the same period, the African American population in Florida increased by 28%; in North Carolina, by 14%; and in Nevada, by 72%.22
The unevenness of higher education opportunity across the states was one of the principal findings of Measuring Up 2000, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education's comparative study that evaluated state higher education performance.23 Many of the states that will see significant increases in the number of high school graduates also have low college participation rates, high percentages of children in poverty, and projected revenue shortfalls (see Table 3).
These high-growth, high-poverty states with projected budget shortfalls are likely to be the states where the future of higher education opportunity in the country will be determined. Many of these states also need to invest heavily in higher education capacity and in need-based financial assistance. But these are states where revenues are most likely to be adversely affected by an economic downturn or a recession, and higher education budgets will likely be under the greatest pressure.
Increased enrollment pressures, particularly during times of financial crises, highlight the continuing, critical question of maintaining opportunity in America: How can states resolve the converging and overlapping issues of changes in the ethnic composition of enrollment pools, and increased numbers of students in financial need?
19 Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and The College Board, Knocking at the College Door (Boulder: WICHE, Feb. 1999), pp. 1-4.
20 Debra E . Gerald and William J. Husser, Projections of Education Statistics to 2011 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, NCES 2001-083, Aug. 2001), pp. 25 and 29.
21 The Chronicle of Higher Education: Almanac Issue 2001-2, Aug. 31, 2001, p. 8.
22 William Chance and William Pickens, "On a Collision Course: Enrollment Growth in Higher Education and Tight State Budget Conditions" (San Jose: National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, prepared in 2001, unpublished), Table 2, p. 10.
23 Measuring Up 2000: The State-by-State Report Card for Higher Education (San Jose: National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2000), p. 10.