Possible Effects of California’s Population Decline on CSU Enrollment and Unit 4 Employees

population decline

The careers of Unit 4 employees are tied to students throughout the CSU system. With the decline of California’s population hitting the headlines, many university professionals may have concerns about the future of enrollment. Despite the uncertainty, the emerging demographic shifts within the state present reasons for hope.

Demographic Changes Skew Higher Income, Higher Education

The high cost of living in the state has a direct influence on who leaves and who moves here. The Public Policy Institute of California reported that population growth has been slowing since the 2010s due to fewer births, more deaths, and reduced entry of international immigrants. Overall, during the preceding decade, 6.1 million people left California and 4.9 million moved into the state from within the United States.

For the most part, Americans choosing to resettle in California possess higher levels of education, typically bachelor’s degrees and sometimes master’s degrees. Most of them are younger college graduates launching their careers.

The inflow of young college graduates could:

  • Promote continued funding of higher education
  • Produce children who desire college education in the future
  • Result in working adults seeking master’s degrees oh doctorates

Over the long term, this situation could maintain a population that recognizes the positive impact of higher education and remains willing to fund it with taxes. Among those who may stay to raise families, their children may eventually contribute to CSU enrollment.

Working adults returning to college could bolster enrollment as they seek new credentials and master’s degrees. CSU programs aimed at the educational needs of these adults have succeeded in boosting enrollment. Currently, about 15,000 people participate in extended education classes within the system according to EdSource.

However, the churn of the population in the state could see a large chunk of the college-educated immigrants moving away when they start to raise families, which could drag down enrollment. The cost of housing also frequently troubles families that need more space. 

Middle Class and Lower Income Residents Leaving

According to a 2018 report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, people earning under $55,000 accounted for the bulk of Californians moving away from 2007 to 2016. Many of the new arrivals to the state had incomes in excess of $200,000 during that same period.

Because CSU students have largely come from socioeconomically diverse backgrounds, the ongoing losses could impact enrollment by:

  • Reducing the number of lower-income applicants
  • Motivating young people to pursue education in lower cost of living states

Lower-income people with strong family roots in the state may desire an alternative to moving. Earning a university degree presents a viable means of securing more highly compensated employment. The recent bump in enrollment at Fresno State serves as evidence that CSU enrollment could maintain a healthy level in the coming years. EdSource reported that Fresno State saw a 5% increase in enrollment in Fall 2020. Among the students, the university welcomed an 11% increase in first-year students and a 38% jump in transfer students.

Across the CSU system, the fall 2020 enrollment numbers presented a mixed bag. EdSource detailed enrollment increases at over half of the university system’s 23 campuses. Some locations that reported gains were Pomona, Fullerton, Dominguez Hills, and Long Beach. Problem areas for enrollment clustered in Northern California where student numbers dropped, specifically at Sonoma, San Francisco, and Humboldt.

Expected Effects of Population Changes on Unit 4 Members

The current numbers hint at a future that could see some campuses do well while others might have to reduce academic offerings. Unit 4 employees may experience uneven effects of the population changes due to the size and diversity of the CSU system. The enrollment gains and declines indicate that budget shortfalls and potential staff cuts could impact some campuses while being unnecessary at other locations.

Awareness of the demographic shifts occurring throughout the state can aid Unit 4 members in their mission to add value to their campuses. Sensitivity to the financial pressures compelling people to move away from California and the ability to chart rewarding academic paths within the state could result in effective recruitment and guidance of CSU students.

When the choice to leave the state or pursue better careers in state confronts young people, a portion will want to remain in California. CSU could very well continue to attract this demographic by promoting higher education as the key to securing success within the state.