Trendbook Excerpt: For the Second Year in a Row, Median Enrollment Grew in NAIS Schools

This is adapted from the Enrollment Outlook in the 2023-2024 Trendbook, available in the NAIS Bookstore.
By Amada Torres
NAIS Vice President of Studies, Research, and Insights

The median enrollment at independent schools was 386 in 2019-2020 and dipped to 376 in 2020-2021 as many families changed schools during the pan­demic. However, median enrollment grew by 4.3% in 2021-2022 and by 2.6% in 2022-2023. With overall enrollment growth between 2018-2019 and 2022-2023 at 3.1%, the current median enrollment (402 students) has surpassed the level recorded before the pandemic (see the figure below).
Median Enrollment at NAIS Schools
While this is encouraging news, further analysis shows that not all schools experienced growth. Between 2018-2019 and 2022-2023, 36% of NAIS schools reported enrollment decreases, including 14% that recorded enrollment drops of 10% or more. Median enrollment changes between 2018-2019 and 2022-2023 varied widely by school demographics.

School type. At day-boarding schools, median enrollment grew 10% during this period, while day schools saw only 2% growth. In contrast, boarding schools (schools where 95% or more students board) experienced a 17% decline in medi­an enrollment, and boarding-day schools declined by 7%.

At single-sex schools, median enrollment improved in 2021-2022 and again in 2022-2023, but it did not reach the levels seen before the pandemic. Boys’ schools saw a decline of 4%, and girls’ schools declined by 1%. Median enrollment at coed schools increased by 4%.

An analysis by grade levels served reveals that all school types saw growth compared to 2018-2019. The overall growth was 6% among elementary schools, 4% at elementary-secondary schools, and 1% at schools serving only secondary grades.

School size. Smaller schools, which have been the hardest hit by pandemic enrollment pressures, haven’t yet returned to the median enrollment levels recorded before COVID-19. In 2022-2023, schools with fewer than 101 students enrolled a median of 77 students, compared to 85 in 2018-2019, a drop of 9%. Enrollment in schools with 101-200 students fell by 2% during the same period. Schools with more than 200 students grew enrollment over the five-year period.

Location. Changes in median enrollment also varied by locale during the pe­riod 2018-2019 to 2022-2023.

The regional perspective. Schools in the Mid-Atlantic, the Southwest, and the Southeast increased enrollment by 7%, 5%, and 4%, respectively. In contrast, schools in the Midwest recorded a decrease of 2%. Schools in the East, New England, and the West experienced little to no change during these years.

The metro area perspective. Schools in the Mid-Atlantic region saw mixed results. Schools in Richmond (18%) and Washington, D.C. (9%), reported high increases, but schools in the Philadelphia area declined by 5%.

Many metro areas with strong growth were in the South. These include Miami (12%), Nashville (7%), and Tampa (5%) in the Southeast, and Denver (14%) and Dallas (7%) in the Southwest.

The decline observed in the Midwest was primarily driven by schools in Chi­cago (10%). It is worth noting that while the West region did not record an increase during the five-year period, metro areas such as San Diego (15%) and San Francisco (8%) reported strong enrollment growth.

Enrollment changes by location may have been driven by demographic and economic trends that benefited areas in the South….

The international perspective. International enrollment plays an important role at hundreds of independent schools. However, according to recent findings from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the pandemic had an enormous impact on the ability—and the willingness—of parents to send their children to schools in the U.S. Between 2019-2020 and 2021-2022, international student enrollment in independent schools declined by 22%.
The Trendbook, NAIS’s annual guide to issues affecting independent schools, includes research, data, Strategic Questions, Action Steps, and Resources. Read about additional trends in enrollment, financial aid, leadership, learning and teaching, and more in the 2023-2024 Trendbook, available in the NAIS Bookstore.