How to educate a changing population

Education is shifting in the United States. Educators—both traditional and online schools—must adapt to stay in touch with students’ needs.


The population of the United States ebbs and flows as the birthrate changes and the death rate fluctuates. According to the World Bank and other sources, the United States birthrate has held about even over the past 20 years, with 1.8 births per woman (the most recent data is from 2015). From 1960 to 1995, however, the U.S. birthrate was on a downward trend; in 1960, the U.S. birthrate was 3.7 births per woman. Around the world, the birthrate currently is 2.45 births per woman, which also reflects a downward trend (it was double that number, at 4.98 births per woman, in 1960).

Several news outlets reported the low birthrate in the U.S. as a “national emergency” and a “fertility crisis.” As older citizens die, the country’s young population cannot yet contribute as much into the economy, the tax base, and a host of social programs.

Colleges and universities—along with K-12 schools—follow the birthrate in the United States closely, as it helps them plan for facility expansion or student needs. Public schools’ capital funding frequently is pushed by government bonds or other public funding factors. Illinois, for example, has been operating without a state budget for nearly 2 years; this has hurt public schools in many ways. Private schools often rely on endowments or donations from generous benefactors to build new programs or facilities. And all schools have to pay attention to the education needs of their students.

The cost of education continues to rise, changing the dynamics of how students earn a degree. The number of enrollees in 2-year schools saw a surge between 2009 and 2012 (think Great Recession) and part-time students were at an all-time high in 2010. The debate continues about whether a college degree is really necessary. What are schools doing to stay ahead of their competition in a tight market?

Brick-and-mortar facilities are creating top-notch facilities to educate students in the most promising fields. The article “Recovering waste heat in buildings,” for example, highlights a university that is upgrading its science labs, banking on the fact that science and technology are promising fields for jobs.

Online educators are reworking the way they offer education, making it easy to learn from anywhere at any time., for instance, offers courses in varying lengths to help engineers better understand a particular technical topic.

Schools as we know them will not disappear anytime soon. They may, however, shift to stay in touch with students’ needs. 

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