US Education System Faces ‘Enrollment Cliff’ as Birth Rate Decline and Pandemic-Related Closures Take Their Toll


A looming “enrollment cliff” is expected to hit US high schools and colleges, leading to school closures, staff layoffs, and financial struggles for districts. The decline in the US birth rate is a significant factor, with estimates suggesting the country will reach its peak high school graduate number in 2025 or 2026, followed by a decade-long decline.

The birth rate drop after the 2008 recession has contributed to the decline, according to economists. Additionally, K-12 schools in cities that experienced population declines during the COVID-19 pandemic are now shutting down. Thomas Dee, an economist at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, noted that public school enrollment has not rebounded since the pandemic, with many parents opting for homeschooling instead.

By 2037, US high schools are expected to produce only 3.5 million graduates, representing a 10.7% decrease compared to previous estimates. Patrick Lane, vice president of policy analysis and research at Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, warned that institutions will face significant challenges in the coming years, with smaller K-12 classes already being seen in elementary schools.

Despite the challenges, schools are facing another financial hurdle as COVID-relief funds are set to expire this September, leaving institutions to seek alternative funding sources. Meanwhile, concerns have been raised about the value of higher education, with confidence in the sector plunging to 36% in Gallup polls, down from 57% in 2015 and 48% in 2018.

Riots and protests have taken place on college campuses, with some prominent Ivy League presidents being ousted from their positions. The public is questioning the value of expensive college degrees, while the Biden administration has proposed taxpayer funding for higher education.

Alana Mastrangelo
Alana Mastrangelo
Daughter of immigrants. Descendant of gladiators.

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