Commentary: Growth in US School Enrollment Will Encourage Construction
Growing enrollments should push education construction to new highs over next two decades
Over the two decades from the late 1980s through the late 2000s, growing school and college enrollments pushed education construction to new highs. During this period, members of the large millennial generation (born from 1982-1999, and larger in numbers than the baby boom) first entered elementary school, then high school and college.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), education enrollments continued to grow at a healthy pace through 2005, and then flattened as the youngest members of the millennial generation entered school.
School enrollments are expected to remain flat through the upcoming fall 2016 school year, after which stronger growth will once again take hold. The strengthening in enrollments reflects an uptick in children born since the 2009 recession—a trend that is expected to continue now that many older members of the millennial generation have reached adulthood and are beginning to marry and have children of their own.
As a result, school enrollments (a key demographic driver behind education construction) will be increasing at a faster pace over the next 10 years. According to the latest projections from NCES, K-12 school enrollments will grow by 2.9 million (5.3%) between 2014 and 2024, when they reach a total of 57.872 million. This growth is stronger than during the previous decade (2004-2014), when K-12 enrollments gained just 82,000 or 0.2%.
Most of the increase will come from elementary and middle schools. Enrollments in grades K-8 remained unchanged over the past decade, but the NCES reports that K-8 enrollments are expected to grow by 2.6 million students (6.8%) to 41.574 million by 2024.
Growth in high school enrollment (grades 9-12) is also increasing, but much more slowly. After growing 0.5% over the past decade, enrollments will advance by 271,000 (1.7%) over the coming decade.
Colleges and universities will also continue to see strong demographic pressure over the next 10 years. Over the past decade, the NCES reports that college enrollments grew by 3.0 million (+17.3%), as the large millennial generation entered its college years.
Over the coming decade, nearly that many—2.9 million new students (+14.2%)—will enroll in the nation’s colleges and universities. While the rate of growth may not exceed that of the previous decade, it will still far exceed the gain in K-12 school enrollment, suggesting that the demand for new college and university buildings will remain robust.
Growing enrollments in both K-12 schools and colleges and universities, combined with the drought in construction over the past several years (a result of tight fiscal conditions for state and local governments), will drive strong demand for education construction in coming years. As state and local government finances continue to improve, prospects for a renewed focus on investment in education infrastructure should accelerate.