April 24, 2014, by Dan Roberts

Where Have All The Young Kids Gone? Many Ohio Schools are Experiencing Enrollment Decline.

America is on the move. We are becoming a more transient society and it is effecting how we educate the children we serve. Ingrained upon our psyche through many generations are two important qualities which are uniquely “American” in concept. These include the vested rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and the achievement of the American dream.

The former are guaranteed in our Constitution, while the American Dream is much more vague in its interpretation. The American Dream is vastly different today than was once, expressed by 1928 Presidential candidate, Herbert Hoover as, “A chicken in every pot and two cars in the garage.” Hoover’s vision of the American Dream is not what the new Millennial generation considers the American Dream. Achieving the “dream” depends on the person seeking it. Being mobile with a willingness to move from place to place in order to survive and/or prosper comfortably is becoming far more common than in the past. People migrate toward work opportunity and better living conditions.

The student population in Ohio is dwindling.  In a recent story appearing in a Sunday edition of the Columbus Dispatch entitled, “Shrinking Environment,” written by Dispatch Reporter Charlie Boss, the student population in Ohio is expected to be reduced 2% by 2018. This equates to almost 56,000  less children in the schools, shifting towards the suburban school districts gaining students. Districts in Central Ohio such as Olentangy and New Albany have seen their student population rise by nearly 21% and 16% in the past five school years respectively according to data cited in the story. The rural and inner city schools districts are losing the most children. The eastern and southeastern section of the state is experiencing a decline in student enrollment. In the heyday of chemical plant production in the region, Belpre City Schools had nearly 3,000 students. It now has 1,200 students in the district. The river towns where the closing of coal-fired power plants and huge aluminum casting plants have eliminated jobs have been hit especially hard. Towns such as Bellaire along the Ohio River and Frontier Local, are examples of what happens when key businesses move on. Warren Local (Washington County), Noble Local (Noble County) and Harrison Hills (Harrison County) are predominately rural, large area districts. Each has been hit hard with declining enrollment. Warren Local experienced a loss of 424 students between 1999 and 2012. Between school years 2008 and 2012,the student population at Warren Local, on average, was reduced 77.75 students per year. Noble Local is a much smaller district in terms of enrollment but the reduction of students attending the district is even more significant. During the same time frame, Noble Local lost 307 students. They have just over a 1000 students attending the district according to Ohio Department of Education data taken in October of 2012. Harrison Hills City Schools located in Cadiz, Ohio has had a similar drop in enrollment. The district of 1,700 students dropped in enrollment by nearly 400 students from 1999-2008.

However, there are districts in the eastern and southeastern portions of the state that have picked up on their enrollment numbers. St. Clairsville-Richland Schools (St. Clairsville, Ohio), a hub for the explosion of oil drilling operations in the Utica Shale fracking business, has actually increased their enrollment by 44 students between 2008 and 2012. Dover City Schools in Tuscarawas County is in the heart of the fracking boom as well. The district has averaged 40 additional students each year since 2008.

Even harder to track accurately, but even more compelling in the education of a child, is the actual enrolling of students entering a district. Many families “come and go” several times a year in and out of the same district. An enrollment total may not vary drastically, but quite often in the districts cited they are constantly enrolling and withdrawing students on a daily basis. Galliopolis City Schools devotes the Central Office Administrative Assistant to at least one full day a week to enrolling new students at one of their buildings. Many districts have Open Enrollment policies that welcome students from adjacent school districts. Parents need not move a single piece of furniture from their home in order to transfer their child to another school district. The reasons vary from proximity, child care convenience, additional curriculum offerings, athletic opportunities and loyalty to a certain district the parent attended. Open Enrollment has had a great effect on the changing student populations. I have personally seen buses from one district literally pull up to a school in another district to pick up their children whom have transferred under open enrollment rules.

Education is affected by this changing dynamic from a very stationary society to a very transient one. The migration of people to places “flush” with employment opportunities and development is occurring. Those places are quite often outside of the Rust Belt and to the Sun Belt.  Ohio school districts plan facility improvements and new construction based on current enrollment data trends. Many factors such as birth rates and general population trends are taken into account by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission when they assess enrollment data for future projects.

SHP Leading Design architects are tasked to design buildings for today’s students while strongly considering how these facilities may be modified for use well into the future.

Americans are free to move about. It is our right. We are free to pursue whatever the American Dream has evolved to be. There is an effect on the continuity of effort public education can give to the students involved in this migration. Regardless of which district a child attends, they should have skilled people dedicated to the task and quality facilities to meet their needs. We at SHP Leading Design are devoted to working with our clients to make certain our parts of the responsibilities are met with unparalleled success.