The 2003-04 school year holds the unique distinction of having both the largest K-12 and higher-education enrollments in history. This year, 53.7 million elementary and secondary students are enrolled in America's schools; 15.7 million students are attending the nation's colleges and universities. The record number of students enrolled this year dwarfs the original record set in the early 1970s when the baby-boom generation flooded schools.
But the ink in the record books will not have much time to dry; next year's enrollment numbers will surpass this year's, and the 2005-06 school year again will see enrollment trounce the year before. This one-upmanship will continue through most of the decade, as schools and universities will see an unprecedented number of students coming through their doors.
The nation's K-12 schools will see enrollment peak in 2005, experience a brief decline beginning in 2006, and start to climb again in 2011. Colleges and universities will see a sharp spike in enrollment every year through at least 2012. This growth trend will have serious ramifications for education institutions — both financially and operationally — as they scramble to provide enough space to house existing and incoming students.
A case in point is Clark County (Nev.) school district. As one of the fastest growing systems in the nation, the district expected to get a handle on its rapid growth by passing a $3.5 billion bond issue in 1998. The money is being used to construct 88 new schools, and myriad other improvements to existing facilities, that will be completed by 2008.
However, district officials now say that an additional 48 campuses will be needed by that time, and over the next few years the district is expected to ask voters to approve another bond issue to fund the new construction. Clark County's enrollment has increased 76 percent over the past decade, and the next decade will see enrollment jump by another 51 percent.
Colleges also are feeling the pressure to add space and improve existing facilities as enrollment growth continues to climb to levels never before seen.
The next few years will be especially challenging for education institutions in light of unprecedented enrollment levels — creating a demand for facilities that will put planning and operations departments into overdrive.
Number of elementary- and secondary-school students, in millions, attending the nation's K-12 institutions in 2003 — an all-time high.53.9
Number of elementary- and secondary-school students, in millions, projected to be attending the nation's K-12 institutions in 2005 — when enrollment will reach its peak. Growth will slow slightly until 2011, when it again will begin to climb toward record numbers.38.3
K-8 enrollment, in millions, in 2003 — the first year in roughly two decades that enrollment was smaller than the previous year.15.4
High-school enrollment, in millions, in 2003. The total number of high-school students will continue to climb to 16.1 million in 2007 and then start to dip just as K-8 enrollment begins to climb again.15.7
Number, in millions, of students enrolled in the nation's colleges and universities in 2003 — an all-time high.17.7
Number, in millions, of students projected to be attending the nation's colleges and universities in 2012.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics.