A long-term look at Utah’s college age population

By 2065 the number of college age population (ages 18-24) living in Utah is projected to increase by 65% (an increase of 196,705 students) to reach half a million, while the school age population (ages 5-17) is projected to increase by 49% (an increase of 329,743 students) to reach nearly one million, according to recently released long-term demographic and economic projections for the state of Utah and its counties by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. Dr. Pam Perlich, Director of Demographic Research, from the institute presented on the findings at the July Board of Regents meeting.

As eight out of ten Utah high school graduates who go to college attend one of Utah’s public colleges or universities, these projections serve as a reminder that USHE institutions need to prepare now for this dramatic increase of these future new students.

While USHE institutions are already dealing with capacity challenges, (almost 60,000 new students have been added since 2000—the equivalent of the 2014-15 student bodies at Utah State University and Weber State University combined), in the next 30-40 years, it will be a significant challenge for Utah institutions to grow capacity academically (providing enough faculty, course sections, and support staff), physically (facilities and infrastructure), and virtually (access to information technology resources) to maintain this significant enrollment growth and prepare for the influx of new growth within in the state.

The minority share of Utah’s population will also drastically increase. By 2050, it’s estimated that minorities will make up 30% of the population in the state of Utah, with the minority share jumping to over 50% in Salt Lake City. Currently, there exists a wide gap in higher education achievement among majority/minority communities and income groups—the college completion rate among ethnic minority students in Utah is approximately half that of white students. USHE institutions will need to increase their efforts to make higher education affordable and accessible as the number of minority populations grow in Utah.

USHE is the primary workforce pipeline in the state, and with an increase in the number of college students over the upcoming decades, this position will become even more vital. Utah’s vibrant economy and high quality of life depends on the ability of USHE institutions to support, and encourage, students in their goals of earning a degree or certificate. As Utah move towards the future, it must increase the percentage of the population with a college degree or certificate. This can only be accomplished by ensuring higher education remains accessible and affordable for all Utahns. This will take additional support from the state, as well as continual work to make USHE institutions as efficient as possible, which will keep higher education in Utah both accessible and affordable.