Accurate Estimates of Student Enrollment One Year Forward

Pat Guseman, Ph.D.

While PASA specializes in projecting enrollment annually for ten years forward, the most valuable estimate is the projection of students for the following Fall—when funds are to be expended on each and every new teacher, and on the other costs associated with best utilizing each school during the coming year. While the national and local economies are critical to study, and political factors are also important, the estimates one-year forward tend to be very micro-oriented.

Six localized factors are needed to project enrollment one year forward:

1. Forecasting impacts of charter and private school enrollments on specific public schools;
2. Projecting Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten students per school;
3. Aging the district’s current students forward per grade per school;
4. Calculating attrition and retention rates, as well as programmatic changes, for each high school, and (to a lesser extent) for lower grades;
5. Estimating regeneration and decline in established subdivisions and apartments—very important in low growth districts; and
6. Estimating the number of added new homes and apartments—very important in high growth districts.

Charter and Private Schools: At this time, charter schools are actually having less of an impact on most other public school districts than was expected. Exceptions are those large, lower socioeconomic school districts with higher than average immigrant students and with higher than average renters. Private school enrollment has always been low in Texas—the state has the sixth lowest private school enrollment percentage for ages 5–17—at 7.7%. Charter school enrollment is now 4.4% in Texas, but could change as new political decisions unfold.

Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten: Pre-K enrollment is based on programmatic considerations, such as full-day enrollment for Pre-K, for example. PASA has a strong process for estimating Kindergarten enrollment. This includes a longitudinal assessment of Kindergarten changes for three years by school and the inclusion of births by place of residence of birth mother.

Aging Cohorts: Aging students forward by grade by school is a tedious process because of the need to account for transfers between schools and the growth and decline factors described below.

High School Attrition: Estimating the future retention and drop-out rates of each high school and determining the extent to which these characteristics, or programmatic considerations, may change over one year’s time is a time-consuming undertaking that must be performed to accurately estimate student enrollment.

Established Neighborhoods: Studying older, built-out subdivisions can determine the redistribution of students—and point to pockets of growth or decline. This approach includes analysis of approximately eight specific characteristics of these subdivisions. Such trend analyses are critical for all districts, but is more important for declining or low growth districts.

New Housing: Conversely, studying new, active subdivisions and new apartments explains 70–95% of the overall student increases in those school districts which are adding more than 2% or more students per year. Since this factor alone is typically the key component of the enrollment projections by school for one-year forward, just what does this entail? In sum, data analysis is undertaken on a block-by-block assessment of new homes recently sold, homes finished and for sale, homes under construction, and on developed lots remaining. Every new home projected to be occupied by the start of the next school year must be accurately projected—not too high and not too low—for each subdivision, following the construction pace of each neighborhood. Likewise, new apartment occupancies must be accurately estimated for the coming Fall.

Projecting growth by grade by school one year forward without these six factors being considered is called an extrapolation—an approach that can be undertaken in a few short minutes, but also an approach that is often flawed, or worse, misleading.