A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

A Back to School Special Report on the Baby Boom Echo: No End in Sight (August 19, 1999)

The Baby Boom Echo:
No End in Sight

In the next few weeks, 53.2 million young people will start school and--for the fourth year in a row--set a new national enrollment record for elementary and secondary education. This new enrollment figure represents an increase of 447,000 children over last year. College enrollment also will reach a new milestone, climbing to a record 14.9 million students. This is the second year in a row that this nation has broken the college enrollment record.

The crush of young people entering our nation's public and private K-12 schools, as well as our system of higher education, reflects the continuing impact of the baby boom echo and the increasing recognition by many more Americans that investing in education is critical to individual success.

This is our fourth special report on the impact of baby boom echo, the 25 percent increase in our nation's birth rate that began in the mid-1970s and reached its peak in 1990 with the birth of 4.1 million children. Coupled with rising immigration and new efforts to expand pre-K programs, this extraordinary jump in the birth rate has led to an unprecedented pressure on our nation's education system.

As a result, many of our nation's schools are overcrowded and deteriorating. The sight of portable classrooms filling up school playgrounds is increasingly common. This year, as last year, educators will be working overtime to find the qualified teachers they need to prepare this next generation of Americans.

This enrollment increase once again reminds us that the current baby boom echo is unlike the post-World War II baby boom that was followed by a sharp decline in the birth rate in the early 1970s. While this report gives us only a snapshot of current enrollment increases, I believe that we are far better off seeing these figures as part of a "long, slow, rising wave" that shows no sign of stopping.

Enrollment has been rising since 1985--a total of 14 years--and it will continue to climb for another seven years until the year 2006. Enrollment will then plateau briefly before increases start showing up at the preprimary and elementary grades again. As Figure 1 indicates there is no end in sight to the rising number of births.

There is no short-term fix to the very long-term condition of increasing enrollment in our nation's school systems. While many school districts are using portable classrooms and resorting to double sessions, the fact remains that this nation simply has to build more schools. During the 20-year period from 1989 to 2009, this nation is being asked to provide a high-quality education to an additional 8.3 million children, and help an additional 2.8 million Americans acquire a college education.

A strong future perspective also suggests that we should be looking down the road to recognize that the children who make up the current baby boom echo will, in time, begin to have their own children and families. This is why it is so important for this nation to build new schools that will last for decades and truly be centers of community and learning for all Americans.

Several aspects of this baby boom echo picture deserve our attention.


[ Highlights ] [ Table of Contents ] [ Expanding Pre-K Opportunities ]

Last Updated -- August 19, 1999, (smj)