Business discusses declining enrollment, role of industry in school improvement

Colorado Succeeds members and partners gathered earlier this month to discuss declining school enrollments, what is driving the trend, how districts are approaching the issue, and how business can be involved.

Elizabeth Garner, State Demographer; Tracy Dorland, Jefferson County Public Schools’ Superintendent; and Senator James Coleman spoke with Colorado Succeeds members.

Some key highlights from the conversation:

In recent years, many states are losing population, resulting in a slowdown of the total US population growth rate. While we are still experiencing growth in Colorado, it is important to note that our population growth is slowing down: births are down, deaths are up, and migration is slowing down. The impacts on our workforce and in our schools of this are already felt by many. 

When we migrate people to Colorado, we migrate people between the ages of 22 to 37. That is our bread and butter, and we are forecasting a slowdown by 2030 because of the decline of our under-18 population. This is important for our workforce as it will be harder to attract and retain the best and the brightest talent around the country.

Elizabeth Garner, State Demographer

While a decline in our under-18 population might affect our workforce in the near future, it is affecting our school enrollment numbers right now. Since Colorado’s birth rate peaked in 2007, birth numbers have slowed by 8,000 fewer birth every year since. Many school districts around the state have been struggling with the reality that we simply have fewer and fewer students to serve.

Prior to this fall, we closed 18 schools in the last 3 years. We realize that we needed to shift our strategy from trying to attract students that just were not being born to ensuring that we had high-quality and rigorous programming for all the students who do live within our County.

Tracy Dorland, Jefferson County Superintendent

Declining enrollment is not new news, but the response to address it has varied district by district. School closures and district right-sizing conversations are not easy issues for districts to confront, but we cannot continue to ignore them.

Educate Denver’s advocacy is based on the belief that high-quality leadership in the DPS will ultimately result in improved outcomes for students. We believe that district leadership must act as responsible stewards of the financial resources by right-sizing the district in the face of declining enrollment in a thorough and respectful community-driven process.

James Coleman, Educate Denver Co-chair

Business has a crucial role to play in addressing these issues. We must engage education leaders and encourage them to face these issues, but also be a thought partner and explore new opportunities for students.

We are exploring creative ways of utilizing the square footage available in middle and high schools to provide opportunities for students. We are partnering with industries to understand what graduates need to succeed in the workforce and how we incorporate this knowledge into high school curriculum and allow students to explore career pathways and earn industry relevant credentials.

Tracy Dorland, Jefferson County Superintendent

Whether you’re curious about local school board elections, meeting with policymakers, or participating in topical deep dive discussions, please let us know, and we will get you plugged in. 

Upcoming Member Events: 

  • Tuesday, May 23 – Q2 Member Briefing: 2023 Legislative Recap 
  • Tuesday, July 18 – Future of Work Luncheon, held in partnership with the Colorado Business Roundtable; invitation coming soon 
  • Tuesday, September 19 – Q3 Member Briefing 
  • Tuesday, December 5 – Q4 Member Briefing 
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Colorado Succeeds