U.Va. Researchers Find Declining Enrollment in Most Virginia School Divisions

November 20, 2014

While Virginia’s overall population is growing, public school enrollment increased in fewer than than one-third of school divisions in the commonwealth between 2008 and 2013, according to University of Virginia researchers in the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service’s Demographics Research Group.

This finding and others related to school enrollment trends are detailed in a Census Brief released today, the fifth in a series of short publications depicting trends in census and other data pertinent to contemporary debate.

Public school enrollment growth is a result of the in-migration of families with children and increasing births – the latter being the primary factor driving public school enrollment increases in Northern Virginia, according to the researchers. “Annual births in Northern Virginia have increased substantially since the 1990s,” said Hamilton Lombard, who prepared the brief. “In the rest of Virginia, on the other hand, most places experienced a slight decline during that same time period.”

While some communities with declining birth rates maintained their school-age population as a result of families with children moving in to the area, family migration has been significantly lower since the recession began in 2008, making this a less reliable source of school-age children.

Projections for school enrollment over the next five years were also prepared by the researchers and forecast a continuation of the same pattern: a steady overall increase in school enrollment in which Northern Virginia provides an increasing share, and a majority of localities continuing to experience declines.

“Fast growth in some areas and continuing decline in others present challenges to local school boards and public school leaders,” said Qian Cai, director of the Demographics Workforce Group. “Declining-enrollment divisions face closing or consolidating schools, while those with increasing enrollment must generate the resources to build new facilities and hire personnel to provide public education to the children of the community. Keeping an eye on these trends is essential to effective planning.”

The Census Brief is available here.

Media Contact

Meredith Gunter

Outreach Director Demographics Research Group, Weldon Cooper Center