The Task Force on Enrollment Size concluded its investigation of how growth and shrinkage in enrollment size affect an institution like Lawrence earlier this Winter Term. The task force was part of a larger initiative by the university to prepare for a projected demographic shift. The demographic shift will see fewer students turning college age due to a drop in birthrates after the 2007-2008 recession, meaning there will be fewer students to fill seats in college classrooms come 2025.
The task force investigated enrollment size and its effects on an institution such as Lawrence; for example, what goes into the growth of an institution. It began in early November and ended in early February. The task force compared Lawrence with institutions similar to Lawrence that experienced growth and/or shrinkage, exploring what profiles those institutions had and what actions those institutions took.
The demographic shift, known as the “demographic cliff,” that is projected to begin in 2025 will see college enrollment decline markedly. It is largely attributed to the decline in birthrates initiated by the Great Recession in 2007, a decline which has not rebounded since. The West North Central Census Division, which Wisconsin is a part of, is expected to get particularly low, with a projected percent change of -22% in the number of students who will attend a post-secondary institution from 2012 to 2029. With fewer students turning college age for the foreseeable future, institutions will have to adapt to the decrease in the nation’s student population. The change is also projected to shift college demographics towards having fewer white students, which is particularly important for predominantly white institutions such as Lawrence to prepare for.
The task force’s exploration and findings are aimed to help Lawrence make an informed decision when the demographic cliff comes into effect. There is a need for Lawrence to hone in on its identity and what it offers, according to Christyn Abaray, Chief of Staff to the President and Secretary to the Board of Trustees. The task force was part of a larger initiative by Lawrence to understand the possible decisions that could be made in light of the projected cliff.
“We want to make sure that, out of all of the levers we have at play, we’re flipping the right ones for Lawrence to be ready, to not just survive, but to thrive and evolve through all of those changes,” said Abaray.
Currently, the findings of the exploration are not available since it only recently concluded. Lawrence is currently in the process of making sense of those findings. However, the findings will become available at some point in the future after it becomes clear what to do with the information, according to Abaray.
The Task Force included Special Assistant to the President Garrett Singer, Interim Vice President for Enrollment Mike Frantz, Vice President for Finance and Administration Samir Datta, Associate Professor of Psychology and Special Assistant to the Provost Elizabeth Becker, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Peter Blitstein, Trustee Susan Long Hall ‘76 and a few other members of the Board of Trustees. Frantz said that the board has decided not to take action on determining what the right enrollment size for Lawrence is. According to Frantz, a new task force has been formed that will report its findings in October 2023.