Prof: enrolment will plummet in 10 years

Recruiting underrepresented students may keep classes full

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

If economic Professor David Foot’s predictions are accurate, universities may face empty classrooms and a surplus of professors within 10 years.

Foot, a professor at the University of Toronto, claims recent increases in university enrolment are driven by the “echo generation,” children of the massive group of baby boomers born after World War II. He believes once the “echo” and double cohort students graduate, universities’ external environment will change dramatically.

Rod Beaujot, a sociology professor at Western, believes Foot exaggerated the echo generation’s size.

“The population of ages 18 to 21 isn’t going up like enrolment is,” Beaujot said.

Beaujot said the number of people in the university age bracket has been increasing since approximately 1996 and will likely peak around 2011. He estimated there will be a decline of roughly 10 per cent between 2011 and 2021, which he doesn’t believe will result in empty classrooms.

“I think what is at stake is more the participation rates than the number of people,” Beaujot said. “We have fairly high participation rates. People lately think university is the only way to set about getting work in our modern economy.

“If [this attitude] changes, that would be serious " even to what we had 15 years ago. Already in the past two to three years I have seen a mood change, where students think the baby boom is finally getting out of the way, and that they will not have to work as hard as previously [to find] jobs.”

Jamie Mackay, vice president of policy and analysis for the Council of Ontario Universities, said the age group of 18-to-21-year-olds should increase until 2014, resulting in 50,000 more people in the age group.

According to the Council of Ontario Universities, Ontario saw a 5.2 per cent increase in university applications this year over last year.

Mackay said even if there is a slight decline, by the year 2020 there will still be 10,000 more people in the age group than there are today.

“The pool is continuing to grow,” Mackay said.

Paris Meilleur, VP-education for the University Students’ Council, said reaching out to students from underrepresented groups will be essential if rates do decline.

“That means aboriginal, lower income and first-generation students,” she said.

Foot said Ontario will no longer have to worry about how to replace aging faculty on tight hiring budgets. Foot said the end of mandatory retirement this year will increase faculty levels 15 per cent over what otherwise would be expected.

“That will get us over the hump,” said Foot in an interview with The Canadian Press. “That will get us through this decade into the next decade, and in fact we may be then buying out the faculty to get them to leave.”

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