Tuesday, November 20, 2001

RICHMOND A new census survey confirms what college officials have been bracing for: A large bubble of students is moving through the school system and will soon land on their doorsteps.
Statistics released on Nov. 13 show the population of students in first through eighth grades is slightly more than that of high schools and colleges combined, prompting some to wonder how the state’s colleges will handle the pending influx.
A little more than 767,600 students were enrolled in elementary and middle schools in 2000, compared with about 368,000 in the state’s high schools, according to a new census survey. Slightly more than 390,900 students were enrolled in Virginia colleges in 2000, according to the data.
Census officials have warned against comparing the data with figures from the previous census because of the change in questions asked from 1990 to 2000.
The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia is projecting public college enrollment to grow 80 percent in the next decade as the baby boom echo or children of baby boomers moves through the school system and pours into college.
“It’s not tidal wave two, but it is a significant increase,” said SCHEV chief economist Fletcher Magnum. “We hope to be prepared.”
SCHEV officials expect 38,000 additional students to enter Virginia’s colleges by 2010. They also anticipate the high school graduation rates to peak around 2007.
The council completed a plan to address the need of the incoming population, calling for more than $330 million for colleges for operations, salaries, financial aid and technology equipment purchases.
For capital budgets, $1.3 billion in state funds is needed to reduce the backlog of deferred-maintenance projects, renovations and new constructions to meet expected enrollment increases, according to SCHEV officials.
“But there is no one, silver-bullet answer,” cautioned SCHEV spokesman Paul Nardo, adding that building schools and dormitories isn’t the only tactic to addressing the numbers.
Other parts of the plan call for diverting students headed for the public school system to private colleges by promoting tuition assistance grants, which are designed to help Virginians attending in-state, accredited private, nonprofit colleges and universities.
Mr. Nardo and Mr. Magnum said it’s too early to tell how the increased numbers will affect competition in Virginia’s schools or if there will be enough slots for prospective students.
Officials overseeing the state’s high schools also are bracing for the incoming wave.
The Virginia Department of Education recently began its Career Switcher program, an initiative to put people on the fast track to earning teaching degrees that would have taken three years to complete.
The program brings new teachers into the classroom to deal with the growing student body. About 100 persons graduated from the pilot program in May.
Old Dominion University started the first Career Switcher program last summer, but only military personnel were eligible. The program now admits professionals with college degrees and valuable life experiences who do not have teaching degrees.

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