University Affairs: Enrolment will continue to climb despite demographic decline (26 May 2011)

Published in University Affairs, 26 May 2011:

New report by AUCC predicts 125,000 more students, a 14-percent rise, by 2020.

by Léo Charbonneau

It’s a fact: the number of Canadians aged 18 to 21 peaked this year, and over the next decade the size of this cohort will decline by about 10 percent. That’s important to universities, since students in this age range account for slightly more than half of full-time enrolment.

But, demography is not destiny, cautions Herb O’Heron, director of research and policy analysis at the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. “There are a whole host of things beyond demographics that are driving enrolment trends and boosting university participation rates.”

That’s not to say population declines don’t matter, said Mr. O’Heron; they do tend to dampen demand. Some universities in Atlantic Canada are already feeling the effect and as a result are stepping up recruitment efforts both domestically and internationally. Other regions – such as northern Ontario and Saskatchewan – may also be affected in the coming years. But, in the aggregate, university enrolment will continue to climb in Canada over the next decade and beyond, he said.

The many factors influencing enrolment are explored in a new chapter on enrolment (PDF) released on May 26 as part of AUCC’s Trends in Higher Education series. Mr. O’Heron said that “labour market demand is increasingly the most important factor driving students’ expectations and student needs.” . . . Continue reading in University Affairs:

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