— A waning number of high school graduates from the Midwest is sparking a college hunt for freshman applicants, with the decline being felt as far away as Harvard and Emory universities.
The drop is the leading edge of a demographic change that is likely to ease competition for slots at selective schools and is already prompting concern among Midwestern colleges.
"You can't create 18-year-olds in a lab," said Brian Prescott, director of policy research at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education in Boulder, Colo. "Enrollment managers are facing an awful lot of pressure that they can't do much about."
Nationally, the high school Class of 2012 ushered in a first wave of declines in the number of graduates, according to a report by the commission. The trend will worsen after 2025, when admissions officers face the impact of a drop in births that began with the 2007 recession. Over the next two decades, the biggest drain in graduates will be in the Midwest and Northeast. The demographic shifts are compounded by economic factors as the cost of higher education continues to rise.
"We are attempting to leave no stone unturned in our primary market," said Ken Anselment, dean of admissions and financial aid at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc. "Demographics are not working real well in the Midwest."
Harvard University said it had a 2.1 percent drop in applications for the next school year, led by a 5.8 percent fall-off from the Midwest. Atlanta-based Emory University reported a 3.3 percent decrease from the region, while Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H., attributed a 14 percent slide in total applications partly to a 20 percent drop from the Midwest. The decline at Dartmouth was the biggest in 21 years.
Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., is projecting an 8 percent drop from the region and 11 percent overall.