America's demographic currents flowed on schedule in 2016

During 2016 America’s population continue to move in many of the ways we’ve come to expect.

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 538 analyzes the latest census data.  There isn’t anything mind-blowingly new in this report, beyond confirmation of trends I and others have been discussing.  However, these trends are reorganizing American society in important ways, with important ramifications for education.

Here are the key trends.

First, people continue to move towards the south and west, and away from the midwest and northeast.

We can see this in changes to the populations of large and medium-sized cities, as those in the sun belt burgeoned, while northern urban areas shrank or stabilized:

American population in cities 2016

Second, the countryside continues to lose people, while cities gain them.  However, suburbs are doing better than cities or rural areas:

American cities suburbs country 2016

Jed Kolko reflects on this in detail well worth quoting at length:

Those figures run counter to the “urban revival” narrative that has been widely discussed in recent years. That revival is real, but it has mostly been for rich, educated people in particular hyperurban neighborhoods rather than a broad-based return to city living. To be sure, college-educated millennials — at least those without school-age kids — took to the city, and better-paying jobs have shifted there, too. But other groups — older adults, families with kids in school, and people of all ages with lower incomes — either can’t afford or don’t want an urban address.

The BurbsTo put it another way, urban growth is a class thing.  To put it yet another way, we’re seeing the limitations of Richard Florida‘s creative class model, and the growing explanatory power of Joel Klein‘s model emphasizing suburbs and red state cities.  For a long time we’ve been talking about the importance of urbanization.  Perhaps we’ve really meant a combination of cities and suburbs, but “city” is a much sexier term than boring old “suburb”.

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 These exciting urban kids are also, and maybe more likely to be, sururbanites.

What does all of this have to do with education?

To begin with, as colleges and universities become increasingly competitive for a student applicant pool that at best isn’t growing much, and when the total number of enrolled students keeps on declining, they will have to target their recruiting efforts in the south and west.  Midwestern and northeastern schools that fail to do so, or that don’t manage to bring in international students, will come under fierce financial pressure.  This is where queen sacrifices tend to appear.

This also means we need to pay less attention to northern K-12, and focus more on southern primary and secondary schools.

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 The latter are where about one half of high school graduates will appear.

Third, the increasing wealth of cities suggests college advancement efforts will increasingly settle there.

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 As income inequality continues to escalate, urban areas will become ever more important in influencing the fate of institutions.  That’s also where campuses have the best chance of finding the wealthiest students whose families are most likely to pay full tuition.

Fourth, rural campuses will continue to find their location a challenge in attracting students, faculty, and staff.

Again, none of this is new.  This Census data, and 538’s accounting, reveal only that trends we’ve been discussing continue to bear out.  America is changing, and our education sector with it; population shifts power a good deal of those transformations.

Are you seeing these major population shifts play out in your area?  Do you detect any countervailing forces?

(thanks to Todd Bryant)

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4 Responses to America's demographic currents flowed on schedule in 2016

  1. I think the wild card now is international – so much of California’s growth is immigrants and children of immigrants – to the extent that the flow of immigrants is disrupted or even reversed, it’s going to change California significantly. We can see the first wave in the drop of international student applications. I was in China last week and hear from several people that they already have a hard time getting permission (from the US, not from China) to visit or study in the US, and they expect things to get worse before they get better.

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