Factors Influencing IHE Enrollments: Birth Rates

In our previous blog post, we explored data from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s (WICHE) Knocking at the College Door report that is predicting a -10.4% decrease in high school graduates from 2026 to 2037. One of the primary factors contributing to the double-digit drop in HS grads in the next 15 years is the “birth dearth” that has been occurring in the United States over the past 15 years. Using natality data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The Texas Department of State Health Services, this blog post will take a closer look at one of the challenges facing higher education enrollment in the next few decades.

Birth Rates Across USA and Within Texas

When reviewing natality data across the United States, it is clear that 2007 served as a  high-water mark for births in this country. As shown in the top “USA Trends (1995-2020)” visualization, there were 4.32 million live births across the USA in 2007. During the 12-year span from 1995-2007, the growth in births from 3.9 million to 4.32 million represented 420K more births, which was a 10.8% increase. However, in the following 13 years from 2007-2020, the total number of live births in America fell by 710K births to 3.61 million, which was a 16.4% decrease. Across the 25 years in the CDC natality data, the drop from 3.9 million births in 1995 to 3.61 million births in 2020 represents a 290K decrease (-7.4%) in annual live births.

Closely-related to number of live births is the birth rate per 1,000 in the total population. The birth rate per 1K is calculated by dividing the number of births by the total population, and then multiplying by 1,000. For example, at the peak of 4.32 million births in 2007, the total population of the United States was 301.23 million, which gives a birth rate per 1K of 14.3. The bottom visualization to the right shows the birth rate per 1K people in the United States has fallen from 14.6 in 1995 to 10.9 in 2020, representing a 25.3% drop in birth rate per 1K in 25 years.

Although not shown in the USA Trends data to the right, another measure related to births in America is Total Fertility Rate, which “estimates the number of births that a hypothetical group of 1,000 women would have over their lifetimes, based on the age-specific birth rate in a given year” (CDC Vital Statistics). Generally-speaking, a fertility rate of 2.1 (or 2,100 births per 1,000 women) is needed for a generation to replace itself. As these total live birth figures have continued to drop, the fertility rate for US women has been below 1.8 births per woman since 2017 and is projected to remain well-below replacement levels for the foreseeable future.


The first tab in the visualization below shows the 25-year trends for each state. The data shown on states include total births in 1995 and 2020, the numeric change from 1995 to 2020, as well as the percentage change from 1995 to 2020. Hovering over each state will show a pop-up tooltip that will provide a view of state-specific line charts for births and birth rate per 1K, similar to what is shown in the USA Trends visualizations above.

  • The percentage of change ranges from the largest decrease of 28.3% in Illinois to the largest increase of 34.3% in Nevada.
  • Texas had the highest numerical gain from 1995 to 2020, increasing from 322,753 in 1995 to 368,190 in 2020. The 45,437 additional births is a 14.1% increase. However, the tooltip shows that Texas had over 407K births in 2007, which means that Texas dropped more than 39K live births (-9.4%) from 2007 to 2020.
  • The biggest numerical loss was seen in California, which dropped from 552K in 1995 to 420K in 2020. This 131,786 decrease is an almost 24% drop in 25 years, which is the second-largest percentage decrease of any state. California peaked at 556K live births in 2007, dropping more than 146K (-26.2%) from 2007 to 2020.


The second tab in the visualization below shows counties in Texas with the state’s public universities layered on the map. This visualization is provided as an exploratory tool for viewing total live births and birth rate per 1,000 within the primary regions (counties) that the public universities in Texas serve.

  • The circles around each campus abbreviation are miles surrounding that campus. The default is set at 50 miles. 
  • Underneath the campus circles are counties where the center of the county is within the buffer distance. 
  • Counties within the buffer circle are shaded in green, while counties not within the buffer circle are shaded in gray. 
  • Hovering over each campus circle will show aggregated data across all of the counties within the buffer circle for that campus. The tooltips include line charts for births and birth rate/1K that are similar to the other visualizations in this blog.
  • The “Buffer (miles)” filter on the right will increase/decrease the circle surrounding each campus and will modify the underlying county layer on the map.
  • The “System” drop-down menu on the right will allow the user to isolate just the campuses in each of the public university systems in the state.
  • The “University” list provides the user the ability to look at individual campuses of interest. Make sure that the “All” option under System drop-down is selected. Then uncheck the “All” option at the top of the University list and click on the specific campus(es) of interest.


The third tab in the visualization below shows counties in Texas only. This visualization is provided as an exploratory tool for viewing total live births and birth rate per 1,000 within Texas counties. Hovering over each county will show tooltips that include line charts for births and birth rate/1K that are similar to the other visualizations in this blog. NOTE: The Texas Department of State Health Services has masked birth counts below 10 births in a year. This causes some counties to not have data available on the hover tooltip.

So What?

Since 2007, metrics related to births in the United States have been trending downward, whether counting live births, the birth rate per 1,000 people in the population, or the generational replacement fertility rate. As we saw in the previous blog post, the count of high school graduates is projected to begin declining in 2026, which coincides with the beginning of the “birth dearth” that started in 2008. With births continuing to decline, concerns about the long-term effects on college and university enrollments are likely to grow stronger, as policymakers and leaders consider solutions to the enrollment challenges facing higher education now and into the future.

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