Enrollment Projections: What Methods Work Best?
At FLO, we specialize in enrollment projections for school districts. Why? Because they’re the building blocks of effective school district planning. Only with detailed and accurate projections are districts able to site schools in the best possible location, future-proof school attendance area boundaries, effectively serve students with special programs, prepare for bonds and levies, and carry out myriad other important planning activities that school district managers must juggle throughout the year.
What are enrollment projections for school districts?
Enrollment projections are a forecast of enrollment in the future. The most common type of enrollment projection is provided by a state department of education. These projections compare past district-wide projections with past actual enrollments to identify trends over time and forecast the future. While these projections can be quite accurate, they are missing a very important element: geography.
The devil is in the details: a geographic approach to enrollment projections
Enrollment projections that take the geography (or location) of students into consideration provide a more detailed picture of what is likely to happen in the future. Our bottom line: when it comes to projecting enrollment, the more data, the better.
Think about this: let’s say a district obtains a basic enrollment projection that accurately predicts how many fourth graders will be enrolled over the next five years but doesn’t take location into account. That provides the district with important information about the number of students expected, but not where those students are likely to reside and, therefore, what schools they are likely to attend. Relying on a basic enrollment projection could result in:
- Imbalanced enrollment (unexpected overflowing classrooms in some schools, and empty desks in others)
- Student populations underserved by special programs because resources aren’t correctly allocated
- Overuse of portable classrooms due to an unexpected influx of students in a particular grade
However, when enrollment projections are matched with population and demographic projections (i.e. where residential growth likely will occur, “aging in place” trends) and land use studies, school districts can more accurately anticipate where in a district student enrollment is likely to change. This level of information allows school districts to:
- Anticipate class sizes, underutilization, and overcrowding across all schools.
- Foresee when enrollment may exceed capacities, with the advantage of knowing what is driving capital facility needs.
- Understand the current demographic and socioeconomic makeup of the student population and past demographic trends.
- Place special programs in schools that are geographically the closest to the students who need to access the programs, while taking facility capacities into consideration.
Only when a district can access enrollment projections that account for the future location of students can the district make truly informed decisions about updating attendance area boundaries and siting new schools—two activities that are often costly and that can create tension between the community and the district—and that school districts don’t want to complicate with unclear data.
Explore Our Work
New School Boundaries Set Up Hood River County School District for Success
Client: Hood River County School District
Where Should We Build? Geographic Enrollment Forecasting for a Capital Facility Plan
Client: Burlington-Edison Public Schools
Student Enrollment and Diversity: A Balancing Act
Client: Tacoma Public Schools