The Bellevue School District (BSD) is looking to consolidate three local elementary schools due to low enrollment rates. A list of seven schools is currently under consideration to be put under a consolidation plan: Ardmore, Eastgate, Enatai, Phantom Lake, Sherwood Forest, Woodridge and Wilburton. The BSD has attributed the low enrollment rates to declining birth rates, increased housing costs and the impact the pandemic has had on the workforce.
In fact, the BSD isn’t the only district struggling with historically low enrollment rates. This has been an ongoing nationwide issue across all education levels. Between the fall of 2021 and 2022, U.S. universities and colleges saw a decline of 94,000 undergraduate students. While that may sound like a massive drop in numbers, in reality, compared to the astronomical one million drop in enrollment that happened during the pandemic, the recent 94,000 is only a drop in the ocean.
The pandemic may seem like the obvious reason for the drastic decrease in enrollment. However, the enrollment rate nationwide has actually been dwindling since 2011, and the pandemic just exacerbated the numbers. In 2019, NPR states that the biggest factor for the 11 percent decrease between the years of 2011 and 2019 was the stable economy. With a strong economy comes lower unemployment rates, which makes people more likely to leave college to pursue work and fewer people return to college to pursue new degrees. Another reason for the decline in enrollment rates could be the lower birth rates from around 20 years ago, which are also projected to decline further in the future.
Community colleges felt the bulk of the decline, with a 13 percent decrease over the course of the pandemic. Last year, BC’s interim president, Gary Locke, expressed concern over a 16 percent drop in enrollment rates between Fall 2021 and Winter 2022. In recent data, we see that between Winter 2022 and the current quarter, the total number of students enrolled at BC has stagnated around the 12,160 mark.
The dean of enrollment management at BC, Steve Downing, says that these lowered enrollment rates are mainly impacting the budget that the college gets to work with. With less tuition revenue, classes that are less in demand would be cut. To tackle this problem, Downing comments that BC is being as fiscally efficient as possible and that the Welcome Center is taking action by doing community outreach to build an understanding of potential students’ needs. Downing notes that a way we could help as students is by registering for classes early so the college can predict, anticipate and organize the budget accordingly.