Enrollment Wave & Lack of Housing Stock

Enrollment - the wave is real, but low housing stock keeps it at bay...

The numbers show that the enrollment wave is real: 
  • In the 2011-2012 school year, total K-12 enrollment in the public schools – both district and charter schools – was approximately 2400 kids.
  • In the 2020-2021 school year the same enrollment was approximately 3200 kids. 
800 more kids or roughly a 32% increase in ten years.  2011-2012 being a trough in enrollment after years of enrollment declines.  In that same time frame, Hoboken’s population grew by 10,000 or 20%, from 50,000 to 60,000.  These are crazy high growth rates that school systems and local governments struggle with.    
Below are two visual “heat maps” I created with the enrollment numbers provided by the state and the BOE:
  • the first is for the entire public schools including district and charters
  • the second is for just the district schools. 
The columns are grades – Kindergarten through 12th – and the color scale in each column shows the highest numbers in that column in dark green and the lowest in dark orange.  In both, the “enrollment wave” is visible and has bold boxes around it.  Everything to the left of the wave shows enrollment growing each year.  To the right, you see the enrollment declines that were occurring before the wave.
The relevancy of the combined map is that HoLa and Elysian end at 8th grade and contribute to the future enrollment growth at the high school.  You can see the enrollment decline that was happening up until about 2008 (the dark orange wave) driven by Hoboken families aging in place (not sending more kids to school) and new residents either not sending their kids to public schools or leaving before their kids were school aged.  It was in 2010 that this started to reverse (see Housing Stock below for more on this). 
Notable on district only map is the impact HoLa had in dark orange on the district schools’ enrollment when it opened.  But also, it shows the impact of the coinciding enrollment wave that started at the same time. 
Using the same time frame (last 10 years), where exactly were the enrollment changes (growth and declines) in more detail (source: BOE / NJ Department of Education website, all rounded)?:
  • District and Charter combined:
    • K-2nd - 1125 vs. 750 or 370 kids, 50% growth
    • 3rd-5th – 790 vs. 530 or 260 kids, 48% growth
    • Middle School – 650 vs. 475 or 175 kids, 37% growth
    • High School – 420 vs. 500 or (-80) kids, 11% decline
  • District Only (all rounded):
    • K-12th – 2,200 vs. 1,700 or 500 kids, 30% growth
    • K-2nd – 830 vs. 430 or 400 kids, 91% growth
    • 3rd-5th – 500 vs. 370 or 130 kids, 33% growth
    • Middle School – 360 vs. 320 or 40 kids, 13% growth
    • High School – 420 vs. 500 or (-80) kids, 17% decline
Almost all of the growth is in the lower grades which makes sense.  People having kids, staying longer and growing into our schools. 500 more kids in elementary school means about 25 more elementary school classrooms… a whole school’s worth.

Housing Stock and its impact on people staying... or not.

Housing, who occupies this housing, and what drives their decisions around their kids’ education drive enrollment changes. 
As mentioned above, the enrollment decline in the 90’s was a result of Hoboken’s first wave of gentrification that came in the late 80’s / early 90’s attracting young professionals which came with an increase in housing prices.  Hoboken’s predominantly middle-class population aged in place, no longer sending more kids into the schools.  When these neighbors sold whether to retire, downsize or due to rising costs, they often sold to the new generation of young professionals with no kids or who moved away before their kids were school aged.  In either event, a population that also did not send more kids into the local schools.  And most new housing being created were studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments which were less attractive for growing families.
In 2010, the financial crisis led to renewed community investment into our schools.  In that year, many young parents with 3 yr. olds who often moved out of Hoboken, stayed due to the collapse of the housing market.  Their kids tried out Hoboken’s free pre-K-3 program and liked it, stayed another year, developed a community of friends around their children and made the commitment to stay.  . 
If you look at the heat map, that is exactly where the wave is – the 2010 PreK class is the 2012 Kindergarten class and the 2021 9th grade class which we are told has approximately 150 students in it, an almost 50% increase in one year.
Why the drop off each year?  Probably because of housing again.  Although Hoboken did shift to building more three- and four-bedroom apartments, there is still a dearth.  So, growing families with multiple children have difficulty finding or affording (given the scarcity) a home big enough for their family.  I have heard from many that this is the main driver to people’s departure from Hoboken, with academic considerations a driver as well. 
But overall, more are staying than ever before. Every single grade from Kindergarten to Eighth shows the highest enrollment in that grade since 2008-2009 with average growth across those years at 53%.  The wave is real.
So, with this enrollment wave, when do you build a new school?  When it is too late?  Or when you have time to prepare for it.

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