In 2026, kindergarten enrollment will decline by 287,000 children, the result of a decline in the birth rate caused by Covid19. By the time this class completes grade 12, the total lost enrollment opportunity will reach 3.7 million.
Years back, I found myself in Washington D.C. with some time to kill. I had been publishing excerpts from reports developed by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in my then monthly School Marketing Newsletter. I decided to make a visit to the NCES and see what I could learn about this organization.
The National Center for Education Statistics
I took a cab to the address and noted that it was located out of the way of the hustle and bustle of downtown D.C. There were no security guards, no receptionist, so I just walked into the office. There was no one in the office when I entered so I just stood there. After a few minutes, a gentleman came into the room and asked if he could help me. I told him who I was, mentioned a few things about what SMRI did including publishing a newsletter for school marketers. He asked me if I would mind waiting for just a moment and asked me to be seated.
The next thing I knew, I was invited into a conference room with four individuals, all of whom worked at the NCES. They seemed interested to know about SMRI, specifically as to whether I could provide them with data regarding the education marketplace. This occurred so long ago that I do not recall the specifics of our discussion. However, I did learn more about the materials that they published.
The Projections and the Digest
Two of their regular published reports I have relied on for years – the Digest of Education Statistics, and the Projection of Education Statistics. Both can be found online, along with numerous other reports, at nces.ed.gov. Recently, the Digest of Education Statistics: 2021 announced the inclusion of new data. These new data include projections of education statistics through 2030 including revisions based on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on school enrollments.
The Projections include statistics ranging from elementary/secondary enrollment to teacher counts to postsecondary degrees earned. To produce these estimates, NCES uses models that apply historical trends in education to forecasted trends in demographics and the economy.
Coronavirus Caused Decline in Birth Rates
With the long-term impacts of the pandemic uncertain, NCES made minimal changes to the projection models in favor of consistency. However, population projections reflect a decline in birth rates during the coronavirus pandemic. This will affect projected enrollment levels in years to come.
The first impact on the school age population is projected to occur in 2026, when enrollments in kindergarten are expected to drop by 287,000 or about 8 percent from the prior year. This decline will then proceed through the succeeding school years.
By 2030, the end of the projection period, the cumulative enrollment decline from 2026-2030 in grades K-4 will total 1.45 million. This is a direct reflection of projected declines in birth rates during the pandemic. Presumably, this decline will continue until this class of students’ graduates from high school.
Projections Negatively Affected Through 2038
Next year, the projections will extend to 2031 and the enrollment decline will affect grade 5. The following year it will affect grade 6 and so on until graduation in grade 12. If the current projections were extended to the year 2038, when those students who entered kindergarten in 2026 will graduate from high school, the total lost enrollment opportunity will reach 3.7 million.
As an example, in 2026 there will be 287,000 less kindergarteners to market to than there were in 2025. In 2027, there will still be less kindergarteners, but there will also be 281,000 less first graders to market to, and so forth.
Not to Worry Too Much
In 2028, a jump in kindergarten enrollments is projected to the tune of an additional 157,000 over 2027. It is expected to grow again in 2028 and 2029. Then that growth will move up through the grades each year.