Carlow Is Prepared to Face the Coming Demographic Cliff

Higher Education is facing a demographic cliff beginning in 2025, when there is a precipitous drop in the number of students graduating from high school. In real numbers, this amounts to around 576,000 fewer students graduating from high school across the United States, which means fewer students available to enroll in college, a situation predicted to last through 2032.

Colleges and universities should be actively planning and preparing for this by intentionally expanding their online program portfolio to reach students beyond the region. At Carlow, because we have been ahead of the curve and building on our strengths in healthcare, education, humanities, and the arts, we have experienced a 10 percent growth in enrollment since 2021 while many institutions in the northeast have experienced a decline over the same period.

Carlow has expanded its course and major offerings to attract traditional and non-traditional students. Specifically, Carlow has recently launched four graduate health science programs in Occupational Therapy, Physician Assistant, Physical Therapy, and Speech-Language Pathology, all with a mission to serve underserved communities.

Carlow has long been a force in Perfusion. Perfusionists are valuable members of the cardiovascular surgery team that keep the blood oxygenated during surgery by operating the heart-lung bypass machine. Carlow supplies 10 percent of the nation’s workforce in this vital field.

There are dire needs for other healthcare professionals, too, and like many institutions, Carlow has developed and is launching programs this fall in Public Health, Practical Nursing, and Surgical Technology. The last two programs – practical nursing and surgical technology – can be completed in less than 18 months, too.

Of course, the shortage of nurses due to retirement and burnout from the pandemic is well documented, so recruiting high school students and second-degree students to enroll in a nursing program that boosts the highest NCLEX pass rate in Western Pennsylvania is part of Carlow’s plan, as well.

It is not just healthcare professions either. Carlow has developed innovative apprenticeship programs in Early Childhood development designed to upskill our daycare workers. We also added an E-Sports Academic Program and team to our portfolio this fall. Carlow believes in creating pathways to higher education, and our college in high school initiatives have increased enrollment in our creative arts majors.

Through our Center for 21st Century Workforce and Innovation, we have developed customized programs for our corporate and community partners designed to upskill their workforce. This includes certificates in project management and quality assurance, and quality control. Carlow is a regional university that enrolls more than 50 percent of its students from the region. Most importantly, these students stay in the region upon graduation and join our workforce, making a difference in our communities.

Innovation and strategic planning are only part of the reason Carlow’s enrollment has grown. Our growth also connects to our mission.  More than 90 years ago, the Sisters of Mercy dedicated this university to respond to the great needs in those days: healthcare and education. Over the years, this university has continued to respond to the great needs of our community, and we will continue to do so. Carlow tells prospective students that we are “devoted to the future of you.” This means that Carlow has a deep commitment to our students, community, and the region; promises constant innovation and response to future needs, and has plans to not only survive, but thrive. The goal is that all our stakeholders: our students, alumni, staff, faculty, and especially our region, will benefit from the university combining devotion and innovation into a recipe for future success that will engrave Carlow’s unique mark on our region. 

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