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Monday, February 27, 2023

I wish we had less students in a Class. Demographics says I may get my wish.

 According to this article, in the near future LESS people will be going to college. There is even a name for this upcoming shift: The Enrollment Cliff. Why?

Is it Covid-related?  Is it that College has gotten to expensive? To liberal? To much cancel culture?  To many dead white males in the core? The core is to multicultural? Online learning is stealing our students? 

No. The reason is actually very boring and does not serve anyone's political agenda. (thats not quite right).  Or any agenda. And you can probably guess the cause from the title of this blog post.

For some years up until 2007 the birth rate was slowly dropping. Then there was a large drop in the birth rate after the recession of 2007, and the birth rate has never really recovered. And the recession might not have that much to do with it-- the long term move from an agricultural society (where kids are an economic gain) to an industrial one (where, after child labor laws and the expense of college, kids are an economic loss- though that can be debated) has resulted in a very long term decline in births. 

And from personal experience, I know (a) very few people who have 4 or more kids, (b) there is NO stigma about having 0 kids as there once was.  Of course the sample size of people I know may be skewed. 

ANYWAY, what will this mean for colleges? 

a) Harvard, Yale, etc will not be affected. Plenty of people will still apply. Note that they draw from all of American and also internationally. 

b) Colleges that draw from a local area may be affected a lot since they depend on locals, and that population may be shrinking. 

c) Schools in between Harvard and Small colleges- hard to say. 

d) The sports betting places paying schools to allow them to promote on campus (and in some cases helping them promote it) may find far less students to sucker into this loser's game. See my blog on this topic here

Univ of MD has around 4000 Computer Science majors (depending on who tells you this its either a brag or a complaint). In the Spring of 2023 there are three lectures of Discrete math of sizes 240, 270, and 90. Each of those also has recitations of  30 (or so) each. If the decline is gradual (either from demographics or from the CS majors bubble finally bursting, or from the other reasons above) then I am sure we can handle it. If it declines very suddenly we may have a problem adjusting. 

One caveat to this that I've heard is that immigration will save us. Maybe. But America is politically going in the opposite direction. The counterargument of without immigration there will be less students going to college is not that compelling to most Americans. There are other more intelligent and compelling pro-immigration arguments. However, American politics is no longer interested in compelling and logical arguments. (The notion that it once was may be nostalgia for a time that never was.) 


  1. No CS faculty member will have trouble adjusting to courses no longer being at 2x or 3x or 4x the sizes they used to be and trying to find enough qualified and hard-working TAs.

  2. Fewer children doesn't have to mean less students per class. Fewer classes is also a possibility.

  3. Fewer faculty is also another possibility

  4. Fewer universities are a likely possibility.

  5. I'm at a type-(b) school, and we've already been sharply impacted, so perhaps I've had more time to reflect on the consequences of the demographics. Besides that there will be fewer institutions of higher ed, there will also be fewer grad students, fewer colleagues, and just less general professional activity.

  6. In general, a lower birth rate is a good thing. For more on the economics, see