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Subject:

Postsecondary Student Demographics

From:

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Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 20 Nov 2003 14:47:58 EST

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Probably more than most involved in the academic industry, learning support 
professionals are interested in how demographic patterns and trends match or 
conflict with federal, state and institutional policies that affect their 
programs and their students.  But it's difficult to find authentic information about 
these students in uncluttered, crisp prose made available in publications 
that are efficiently available.  If such is your experience, you should find Tom 
Mortenson's analysis refreshing.

Gene Kerstiens
Andragogy Associates 

Demographics and Demographic Change in American Higher Education

By: Tom Mortenson
Higher Education Policy Analyst, Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY
P.O. Box 415, Oskaloosa, IA 52577

The populations served by the American higher education system are 
ever-changing.  As time passes, people are born and virtually all enter the education 
system.  Most eventually graduate from high school, and most of the high school 
graduates go on to college.  About half of those who start college will 
complete a bachelor’s degree; eventually about 30 percent of the population receives 
a bachelor’s degree.  These change processes continue every day, 
relentlessly.  While migration and mortality influence who reaches college age, far more 
important factors are live births that occurred 18 years earlier and the 
attrition from the education pipeline after compulsory school attendance ends at age 
16.  These continuing demographic changes mean that higher education 
enrollments have changed, are changing, and will continue to change.  This essay will 
briefly examine the demographic landscape in America and explore the 
implications of demographic trends and changes on the education system. Population 
changes, and the nature of their influence on education, will be discussed.  Among 
the largest population changes are the following.

Population Changes: The Pig-in-the-Python
High school graduate numbers are a function of live births that occurred 18 
years earlier.  In the post World War II era, there have been cycles of baby 
booms and busts.  These boom and bust cycles make high school graduate 
projections fluctuate, yet remain predictable for 18 years into the future. A high 
school graduate is defined as an individual who has received formal recognition 
from school authorities, by the granting of a diploma, for completing a 
prescribed course of studies at the secondary school level. (This definition does not 
include other high school completers, high school equivalency recipients, or 
other diploma recipients.) 

The number of high school graduates from public and private schools increased 
from 2.643 million in 1987 to 2.773 million in 1988, then decreased to 2.464 
million in 1994, before increasing to 2.824 million in 2000.  The total number 
of high school graduates is projected to rise to a peak of 3.181 million in 
2009, then decrease to 3.074 million by 2012. 

Population Change is Uneven across the States
Due to aging, natural reproduction, and migration patterns the numbers of 
high school graduates will grow rapidly in some parts of the United States and 
shrink rapidly in other parts.  Between 2000 and 2012 the number of public high 
school graduates is projected to increase by 9 percent.  However, this general 
increase plays out differently by region and state:

--- In the Northeast the increase will be 8 percent, with state changes 
ranging from +26 percent in New Jersey and +16 percent in Connecticut to -16 
percent in Vermont and -12 percent in Maine. 
--- In the Midwest the number of public high school graduates will increase 
by +1 percent, with state changes ranging from +17 percent in Indiana to -29 
percent in North Dakota and -26 percent in South Dakota. 
--- In the South public high school graduates will increase by +11 percent, 
with state changes ranging from +27 percent in Florida, +24 percent in Virginia 
and +22 percent in North Carolina, to -20 percent in West Virginia. 
--- In the West public high school graduates will increase by +17 percent.  
State changes will range from +71 percent in Nevada and +38 percent in Arizona 
to -28 percent in Wyoming, -19 percent in Montana and -13 percent in New 
Mexico. 

The Feminization of Higher Education Enrollments
Between 1970 and 2000 the number of men enrolled in higher education 
increased from 5.043 to 6.721 million, or by 33 percent.  During the same period the 
number of women enrolled in higher education increased from 3.537 to 8.591 
million or by 133 percent.  Since 1979 women have outnumbered men in higher 
education—a situation only replicated during World War II, and that was 
short-lived.  The gender-shift since 1979 is probably permanent and continues to grow 
every year.

There are two different stories here: the unprecedented success of girls and 
women in the education system, and the lack of comparable success for boys and 
men.  The progress of women cuts across all racial/ethnic and economic class 
lines, has now occurred in every state and appears to be happening in all 
countries that do not deliberately suppress the education of women.  The gains by 
females begin early and continue their momentum throughout the education 
pipeline.  Their success is on full display at the end of the education pipeline at 
college graduation.  Here women—who are less than half of the population 
through their mid 20s—now receive 60 percent of the associate degrees, 57 percent 
of the bachelor’s degrees, 59 percent of the master’s degrees, 46 percent of 
the first-professional degrees and 45 percent of the doctorates.  Higher 
education is well on the way to being feminized (except in the engineering and 
computer science schools).

In stark contrast young American males are struggling and floundering in 
education and in other areas of their lives.  Incarceration and suicide rates have 
exploded since the 1960s.  Male labor force participation rates are 
declining, male voting rates have dropped sharply, and many males are abandoning the 
children that they have fathered.  In the education system males are less likely 
than females to graduate from high school, go on to college, and complete a 
college degree by graduating.  On many measures the educational performance of 
males is below what it was three decades ago.

The Shift in the Population from Non-Hispanic Whites to Hispanics, Asians and 
Blacks
Non-Hispanic whites represent a steadily shrinking share of higher education’
s market population, with Hispanics and Asians representing the fastest 
growing shares.  

--- In 1960 whites were 93 percent of the high school graduates.  By 2001 
white non-Hispanics were 71 percent, and by 2012 they will be 60 percent of 
public high school graduates according to one projection. 
--- Black high school graduates have grown from 11 percent in 1976, to 15 
percent by 2001, and are projected to decline to 14 percent by 2012.
--- Hispanic high school graduates have grown from 5 percent in 1976 to 9 
percent by 2001, and are projected to grow to 19 percent of all public high 
school graduates by 2012. 
--- Other race high school graduates (mainly Asians) have grown from 1 
percent in 1976 to 4 percent by 2001, and are projected to grow to 7 percent by 
2012.  

Similarly, non-Hispanic whites represent a steadily shrinking share of the 
degrees awarded by colleges and universities each year, with Hispanics, blacks 
and Asians representing the highest growing shares.

--- In 1977 white non-Hispanics received 90 percent of the bachelor’s degrees 
awarded to U.S. citizens. By 2001 this number had dropped to 74 percent. 
--- In 1977 blacks received 7 of the bachelor’s degrees.  By 2001 they earned 
9 percent. 
--- Hispanics earned 2 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in 1977, and by 2001 
the number had increased to 6 percent.
--- Asians received 2 percent of the bachelor’s degree in 1977.  By 2001 they 
earned 6 percent. 
--- American Indians earned 0.4 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in 1977, 
and by 2001 they earned 0.7 percent. 

Low Income Populations are Growing
Whether measured by minority population growth or by growth in the number of 
subsidized school lunches approved in the K-12 education system, a growing 
share of the population to be served by higher education comes from low income 
family backgrounds.

--- The proportion of K-12 enrollment approved for free-or reduced-price 
school lunches increased from 37 to 41 percent between 1993 and 2002.  Free lunch 
eligibility is available to children from families with incomes below 130 
percent of the federal poverty level, and reduced-price school lunches are 
available to children from families with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the 
federal poverty level. 
--- Minorities constituted 7 percent of high school graduates in 1960, 29 
percent in 2002, and will be about 40 percent by 2012.  In 2001 median family 
income for dependent 18 to 24 year olds who were white non-Hispanic was $67,500, 
compared to $32,700 for blacks, $35,100 for Hispanics and $56,700 for Asians. 

American 4-year colleges and universities have done an exceptionally poor and 
steadily worsening job serving students from low income populations since 
about 1980.

Conflicting Policy Choices
These demographic patterns and trends stand in clear conflict with most 
federal, state and institutional policy choices made since about 1980.  The federal 
role in providing higher educational opportunity is manifested mainly in its 
important programs of financial assistance to help students pay college 
attendance costs.  The federal government has made and continues to make significant 
changes to its many financial aid programs to assist students.

Foremost among these changes has been the sharp shift in federal student 
financial aid away from those who have demonstrated financial need for financial 
aid to help pay college attendance costs and toward those who vote.  In many 
cases this has meant shifting assistance from students to parents (grants to tax 
credits, subsidized loans to unsubsidized loans, incentives for families to 
save for the education of their children).  It also means shifting financial 
aid from those who need it to those who don’t.  The share of federal student 
financial aid awarded on the basis of demonstrated financial need has declined 
from a peak of about 86 percent between 1985 and 1987 to about 52 percent by 
2000 to 2002.

As higher education enrollments are feminized, the growing reliance on loans 
to finance higher education will force a growing share of women to choose 
between higher education/careers and family formation.  Women earn significantly 
less than men with a college degree.  Moreover, the lack of college-educated 
men to marry will make this decision for a growing share of college-educated 
women.

State colleges and universities enroll about 80 percent of college 
undergraduates.  States have the primary responsibilities for providing capacity, 
quality and affordability of higher education opportunity.  Each of these dimensions 
of opportunity costs real money, and without adequate and appropriate support 
opportunity is curtailed.  

However, states have been cutting back sharply on their higher education 
investment efforts since the late 1970s, favoring instead increased budget 
allocations for corrections, Medicaid and tax cuts.  Public institutions have been 
raising tuition charges to students to partially offset this loss of state 
financial support.  The burden of this cost shift from taxpayers to students falls 
overwhelmingly on students from the lowest income families.

--- Only a handful of states—ten at most—have significant state need based 
grants programs to help needy students pay college attendance costs.  
--- Many states are also adopting merit scholarship programs that provide 
financial aid mainly to people who do not need it, and creating state savings 
programs for families with discretionary income to set aside for future higher 
education purposes. 

Four-year colleges and universities, both public and private, have been 
moving aggressively away from serving the growing share of the population and 
increasingly focusing on the shrinking share of the population.  Most have been 
raising admissions standards and devoting a majority of their tuition discount 
resources to merit scholarships.  These enrollment management practices in 
admissions and financial aid are designed to increase institutional revenues and 
enroll freshmen that add luster to the institution’s ranking in US News and 
World Report.

Consequences of Opportunity
The consequences of these policy choices are now clear in higher education’s 
enrollment data.  All broad measures of higher education participation rates 
in the United States peaked between 1995 and 1998 and are now declining.  
Compared to other industrial countries the United States has dropped from world 
leader in the late1980s to the bottom half or third in tertiary enrollment rates. 
Finally, the United States will loose its historic political and economic 
advantages in world competitive spheres.

It is impossible to alter the basic demographic changes that have already 
occurred—we are stuck with children who were born over the last 18 years because 
they are already here.  We cannot change demography.  However we can change 
our policy responses to the students to be served any time we choose to do so.  
We could refocus student financial aid on students who truly need it, if we 
wanted to.  We could restore our state investment effort in higher education to 
restore capacity, quality and affordability, if we wanted to.  We could reach 
out to underserved populations such as males, Hispanics and students from low 
income family backgrounds, if we wanted to.  The question is really: What do 
we really want to do?

For more information on demographic trends as they relate to the American 
higher education system, please visit: <A HREF="http://www.postsecondary.org/home/default.asp">
http://www.postsecondary.org/home/default.asp</A>.  At the site you can request a free sample issue of the Postsecondary 
OPPORTUNITY newsletter.

A Web version of this essay is available on the Policy Center's Web site 
should you wish to bookmark or print the article. Please visit: <A HREF="http://www.brevard.edu/fyc/listserv/remarks/mortenson.htm">
http://www.brevard.edu/fyc/listserv/remarks/mortenson.htm</A>



Copyright 2003, Thomas G. Mortenson. This essay may be copied and used for 
non-commercial use without obtaining copyright permission but should include the 
source and author information.  Any commercial use must be approved by the 
author.

--
Tom Mortenson
Higher Education Policy Analyst, Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY
P.O. Box 415, Oskaloosa, IA 52577
V: (641) 673-3401, F: (641) 673-3411
<A HREF="mailto:[log in to unmask]">mailto:[log in to unmask]</A>
Web: <A HREF="http://www.postsecondary.org/">http://www.postsecondary.org</A>
Web: <A HREF="http://www.snakerivermn.org/">http://www.snakerivermn.org</A>
Senior Scholar, The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher 
Education
1025 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20005
V: (202) 347-7430, F: 347-0786























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