Where have all the students gone?

GHENT—Public school enrollment in Columbia County has fallen to its lowest amount in over 40 years. But the decreases are in line with the drops in the total county population under 18.

Columbia County’s six school districts counted 6,267 students for the 2020-21 school year. This was 3.9% lower than the 2019-20 enrollment of 6,521.

The overall enrollment countywide is 44.5% lower than the 12,127 students enrolled in 1976-77, the first school year included in the state Education Department’s current public data set. The enrollment in Columbia County schools has been decreasing every year since 1997-98.

Between 2010 and 2020, the county population under age 18 dropped 16.3%. That’s almost as much as the drop in school enrollment between 2009-10 and 2019-20 (17.4%).

The ratio of school enrollment to the population under 18 has stayed between .62 and .69 since 1980.

The state defines school enrollment for a year as the number of students counted in October of that year. The US Census tries to reflect the population as of April. When comparing school enrollment to census populations, the school year used is the one whose April is the April the Census uses, that is, the one whose October is right before that April.

The 3.9% enrollment decrease from 2019-20 to 2020-21 follows 3.2% enrollment decrease from 2018-19 to 2019-20. The percent decrease in enrollment from one school year to the next has been getting steeper since 2017-18. That these decreases began before the pandemic is evidence that other reasons are contributing to them.

COLUMBIA COUNTY SCHOOL ENROLLMENT: PAST 5 YEARS & HISTORICAL

SCHOOL ENROLLMENT

SCHOOL

German

Kinder

New

Taconic

%

YEAR

Chatham

– town

Hudson

-hook

Lebanon

Hills

Total

Change

2020-21

919

519

1,624

1,620

393

1,192

6,267

-3.9

2019-20

983

520

1,663

1,683

427

1,245

6,521

-3.2

2018-19

1,020

525

1,723

1,750

432

1,284

6,734

-2.6

2017-18

1,057

549

1,770

1,757

430

1,348

6,911

-1.1

2016-17

1,046

557

1,807

1,773

408

1,399

6,990

-1.6

2015-16

1,067

586

1,805

1,843

421

1,384

7,106

By 2015, all district counts included pre-kindergarten.

Historical Glimpse

1976-77

1,960

907

3,190

2,792

1,060

2,218

12,127

% change

1976-2020

-53.1

-42.8

-49.1

-42.0

-62.9

-46.3

-44.5

Highest since 1976

1,960

907

3,190

2,804

1,060

2,218

12,127

Occurred in

1976-77

1976-77

1976-77

1978-79

1976-77

1976-77

1976-77

All these results exclude the Berkshire Union Free School District, which closed in 2020.

Its enrollment was 239 in 1976-77; 290 at its maximum since then (1999-2000), and 83 in 2019-20.

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