The key demographic trends that are likely to impact the U.S. education system in the coming years include:
- Our population is becoming more and more racially diverse.
- Our population is rapidly aging.
- Postsecondary education demand will continue to grow.
- Disproportionately large numbers of children remain poor.
- Different states have sharply different projected futures.
Key Trend #1: Our population is becoming more racially diverse.
- Due largely to immigration and higher fertility rates among minorities, half of all school children will be non-Anglo American by 2025, and half of all Americans will be non-Anglo American by 2050. (Secondary Schools in a New Millennium, Harold Hodgkinson, 2000)
- Racial lines are also becoming more blurred. At least 40% of all Americans have had some racial mixing in the last three generations. Children of Hispanic immigrants, for instance, are marrying non-Hispanics 35% of the time. (Secondary Schools in a New Millennium, Harold Hodgkinson, 2000)
Potential long-range consequences: Low achievement of minority students is one of the most pressing problems in education. Today, the average black or Hispanic high school student achieves at about the same level as the average white student in the lowest quartile of white achievement. And black and Hispanic students are much less likely than white students to graduate from high school, acquire a college or advanced degree or earn a middle-class living. Erasing this “achievement gap” between racial groups will become an even more urgent priority in the future as minorities occupy a larger and larger share of the population.
Another important impact from increasing racial diversity is that more students whose primary language is other than English will be entering our schools. Pressure on policymakers to institute more bilingual education and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs is therefore likely to increase. To accommodate the likely rise in bilingual students, educators and policymakers will need to ensure that colleges of education prepare new teachers to work with increasingly diverse student populations and that professional development opportunities are available for experienced teachers to prepare them to work in diverse environments.
The blurring of racial lines that is already occurring – and can be expected to continue – as more children are born to interracial couples also poses difficulties for reporting accurate disaggregated data on student performance. For instance, tracking of student progress by racial group – as required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act – will become increasingly difficult for schools to manage as more students classify themselves as members of several different racial/ethnic groups.
Key Trend #2: Our population is rapidly aging.
- During the 20th century, the population age 65 and over increased tenfold, from 3.1 million in 1900, to 35 million in 2000. Rapid growth of the 65-and-over group will begin again in 2011 – when the first of the post-World War II baby-boom generation reaches age 65 – and will continue for many years. (Demographic Trends in the 20th Century, U.S. Census Bureau, November 2002)
Potential long-range consequences: An aging population means there will be a growing number of citizens who no longer have school-age children. Because citizens tend to vote based on their own self-interest, this could mean that it will be harder for schools to rally public support in the future for many school programs, including bond initiatives. This is especially significant because the elderly tend to vote at much higher rates than younger citizens.
To help address this issue, and to build broader societal support for schools in general, policymakers and education leaders will need to take steps to more actively involve older citizens in the schools. Such steps include developing effective communications strategies targeting to ensure that older citizens remain connected to their schools and recruiting older citizens as volunteers to tutor or participate in classroom or other school activities. These types of activities will be necessary to ensure broad community support for the mission of schools, and will help produce an electorate more inclined to support initiatives to improve the quality of education in their communities.
While reaching out to older citizens will become increasingly important, policymakers and education leaders will also need to work harder to build active support for schools from younger citizens. To build such support, schools will need to be more effective at instilling their students with the knowledge and values that will make them active participants in our democracy. To combat low voting rates among young citizens for instance, schools will need to develop more effective civic education programs that teach students the importance of voting and participating in the political process.
Sources: Secondary Schools in a New Millennium, Harold Hodgkinson, National Association of Secondary School Principals, 2000; Ten Trends: Educating Children for a Profoundly Different Future, Gary Marx, Education Research Service, 2000.
Key Trend #3: Postsecondary education demand will continue to grow.
- At current postsecondary participation rates, colleges are likely to see an increase of more than 2 million students by 2015. (Closing the College Participation Gap, ECS, to be published in fall 2003)
- Between 1940 and 2002, the number of people aged 25-29 completing at least a bachelor’s degree has risen steadily from around 6% to almost 30%. (Postsecondary Education Opportunity, 2003)
Potential long-range consequences: In the next decade, it is likely that every state will face a mounting demand for access