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 prediction of future enrollment. The most common type of enrollment projection is provided by a state department of education. Comparisons of past district-wide projections with past actual enrollments are made to identify trends over time and project future enrollment. While these projections can be quite accurate, they are missing a very important element: geography.
When it comes to projecting enrollment, the more data, the better. 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. A more detailed forecast, in other words.
Think about this: let’s say a district obtains a basic set of enrollment projections that accurately predict 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 integrated with demographic trends and land use studies (e.g. where residential growth likely will occur, “aging in place” trends, etc.), 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.
See how a geographic approach to forecasting enrollment has helped several of our clients make more informed decisions in the case studies, below. Questions about your district’s enrollment? Get in touch.
Explore Our Work
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
Future-Proofing New School Attendance Area Boundaries
Client: Central Valley School District
Our Guide to Updating School Boundaries
Updating school attendance area boundaries can be complex and contentious, and most districts will undertake the process more than once. Yet, there are few well-known best practices.
Our guide to updating boundaries explores the four major steps in the boundary update process. Whether you’re just starting to think about a boundary update or already have one planned, this free e-book will provide the knowledge you need to successfully lead a data-driven boundary update that satisfies the needs of your community and your school district.