Spanier outlines demographic trends facing Penn State, commonwealth

September 16, 2003

University Park, Pa. -- In a presentation Sept. 16 to the Faculty Senate, Penn State President Graham B. Spanier discussed a range of demographic trends facing Pennsylvania, including the shrinking pool of in-state high school graduates, the growing gender gap in higher education and the state's current 'brain drain.'

The fundamental message: it is vital that the University prepare now for changes that will comprise the mosaic of Penn State classrooms in the future.

"In order to respond to these challenges, we need to not only look at historical patterns, but also projections for the future that will show us what we can expect," said Spanier.

At present, Penn State is reaping the benefits of a strong, diverse applicant pool. Applications for admission have climbed dramatically during the past decade. With more than 86,000 applicants last year Penn State is arguably the most popular institution in the nation.

The percentage of high school graduates who go on to college has increased over recent decades, and Pennsylvania's rate continues to be above the national average - reaching a high of 73 percent last year. However, the number of Pennsylvania high school graduates dropped significantly between 1975 and 1995 by 44,000 students. In addition, while about 35 percent of the state's population was 18-years old or younger in the 1970s, only 25 percent were by 2000 - with a further drop anticipated by 2010.

"Pennsylvania colleges and universities will face a new round of enrollment challenges after 2008, when the modern-day peak year for college-bound high school graduates will pass," said Spanier. "However, this trend is of lesser concern to the viability of Penn State, where our popularity with out-of-state students is strong and growing and where our overall admissions activity provides us some security."

Challenges also lie ahead in maintaining student body diversity. In recent years, the pool of qualified minority students has trended sharply upward, resulting in a 50 percent growth in minority enrollment at Penn State - a trend the University continues to devote significant resources toward supporting. This growth in campus diversity comes despite the fact that Pennsylvania is significantly white; by 2010, the state's population is expected to be 82 percent white, 10 percent African-American and 5 percent Hispanic.

However, while national demographic trends are that about 65 percent of the population growth through 2020 will be in ethnic minority groups - particularly Hispanics and Asians - about three-fifths of that increase will take place in just three states: California, Florida and Texas. By 2025, for example, while the U.S. population is expected to be 19 percent Hispanic, Pennsylvania's Hispanic population is expected to reach only 7 percent.

"Eighty percent of students attend college in the state from which they graduated high school, so it's going to be pretty tough to try to provide our students with an educational experience that mirrors the nation's diversity if we don't have that diverse pool to draw from within our own state," said Spanier.

Women - who already make up more than 56 percent of the undergraduate population on U.S. campuses - will continue to outpace men in earning college degrees. Nationally, for every 100 men who earn bachelor's degrees, 133 women do the same. By 2020, the gap is expected to widen to 156 women per 100 men earning degrees.

Such a trend, which raises a number of questions about preparation for the future workforce of America, is likely to trickle to Penn State as well. At the University, males outnumber females by about eight percentage points due to a historically heavy male enrollment in disciplines such as engineering, earth and mineral sciences and agriculture. However, even this enrollment trend has changed in recent years.

Spanier also alluded to the 'brain drain' epidemic - the out-migration of educated young people - currently facing Pennsylvania.

"The state is losing more young workers than we are gaining from other states," he said. "Simply put, too many of our graduates are not staying within Pennsylvania due to the lack of jobs. The state needs to focus on attracting the right businesses to the Commonwealth and place a greater emphasis on educating its workforce. And we need to find incentives to get our graduates to stay."

President Spanier's presentation will be available for viewing on the Web following the Senate meeting at 3:30 p.m. Go to

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 20, 2009