Demographic Change and Higher Education with Dr. Nathan D. Grawe

INNOVATE 2023 — Capture Higher Ed’s two-day, free virtual conference for recruitment marketing leaders and professionals this past December — opened with a keynote speaker familiar to anyone who has investigated the profound demographic challenges facing higher education today.

Over the years, Dr. Nathan D. Grawe, professor of economics at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., has done deep research into higher education’s so-called “demographic cliff.” Projected to begin in 2025 (though some feel it has already arrived), the cliff refers to the dramatic drop in the traditional, college-aged population resulting from the decline in the U.S. birthrate that began during the Great Recession. According to the Brookings Institute, birthrates were down nearly 20% from 2007 to 2020 … and a rebound is unlikely.

Grawe has looked up and down the demographic cliff. He has also studied the related recruiting challenges caused by it and what colleges and universities should do to offset its ramifications. His insights can be found in two important books — Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education and The Agile College.

Grawe opened his INNOVATE presentation by acknowledging that the topic of demographics is not always the most exciting. Still, it’s starting to become that way for those working in higher education enrollment. He even mentioned a Washington Post article from a few years ago where someone in the Northeast said the demographic changes coming made them view the mid-2020s as the apocalypse.

“I saw that, and I thought, that’s almost a uniquely unhelpful metaphor,” he recalls. “There’s got to be something, other than going home and spending time with loved ones, that we can do about this. So, I will talk about some things I see higher ed doing to respond to this challenge and leave you with a little more constructive metaphor at the end.”

The charts, graphs and stats come fast and furious during Grawe’s essential presentation for any leader working in higher education recruitment marketing and enrollment management. Check out the recording here.