What is Student Enrollment Forecasting?

Author: Tyler Vick Published: April 15, 2018

Student enrollment forecasting provides school districts with a prediction of future enrollment. Enrollment forecasts are the building blocks of effective school district planning. Only with detailed and accurate forecasts 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.

Student Enrollment Forecasting: A Geographic Approach

The most common type of enrollment forecast is provided by a state department of education.  Comparisons of past district-wide forecasts with past actual enrollments are made to identify trends over time and project future enrollment. While these forecasts can be quite accurate, they are missing a very important element: geography.

When it comes to forecasting student enrollment, the more data, the better. Student enrollment forecasts 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 student enrollment forecasts  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 forecast could result in:

  • Imbalanced student 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 student enrollment forecasts 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 student enrollment forecasts 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.

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