Population Trends in Texas: An Analysis of Age

In our previous blog post, we paused our series on factors affecting enrollment in higher education to look at preliminary enrollment numbers for fall 2022. The data show a slight recovery for public colleges (community colleges) after the loss of almost 100,000 students from fall 2019 to fall 2021, while public universities collectively continue to see a slight uptick in fall enrollment. However, total enrollment in public colleges and universities in Texas continues to lag behind pre-COVID-19 levels (1.41M in fall 2019 vs 1.32M in fall 2022). To better understand these trends, we turn our lens to analyzing age-related data to get a sense of how the demographics in Texas are changing.

Unpacking Age Data in Texas

If you’ve been in the state of Texas for any length of time, you’ve likely heard that Texas is growing. From 2010 to 2021, the state’s estimated population increased by 16.6% from 25.3 million to 29.3 million, as the 4-million increase is the largest of any state in America. With such steady increases in the general population, the question of how this growth has affected enrollment in Texas’ public colleges and universities is worth exploring further, which we do so in the visualizations below.

  • States Median Age (Hex): The median age in the United States increased from 37.2 years in 2010 to 38.8 years in 2021, which represents a  4.3% increase. The hex map below shows the median age for each state in 2021, as the youngest state is Utah (31.8 years) and the oldest is Maine (44.7 years). Texas is the second-youngest state with a median of 35.5 years. Hovering over each state shows the median age trend for that state from 2010-2021. Every state in America has grown older in the past decade, except for North Dakota (37.4 years in 2010 to 35.8 years in 2021) and Montana (same at 40.1). Texas’ median age increased from 33.6 years to 35.5 years, which is a faster rate-of-change (5.7%) than the national average and is the 14th-highest percentage change among the 50 states in America.
  • TX Population Categories: The population pyramid visualization shows the breakdown of Texas by 5-year age increments in 2010 on the left and 2021 on the right. Considering the overall growth rate of 16.6%, we can see that all of the categories from 55-59 to 85 and Older exceeded the average growth rate, and some of them fairly substantially. The 70-74 age category saw the highest numeric and percentage increase from 2010 to 2021 (467,366 and 74.6%, respectively), with the 60-64, 65-69, and 75-79 age groups each exceeding the 35% increase mark. Of particular concern for higher education is the opposite end of the age spectrum, where Texas has actually experienced a 2% decrease in the number of children under the age of 5 from 2010 to 2021. None of the age categories below 30 years old had population increases above the state’s 16.6% average, with only the 10-14 age category approaching the state average. These trends, in part, explain why high school graduate projections in Texas markedly drop off in 2033-2037.
  • University Average Age (Statewide): At the undergraduate level at public universities, the proportion of the student body that is 18-21 years old has increased by 4.7 percentage points from 59.6% in 2014 to 64.3% in 2021. The only other age category to increase during that time span was Under 18 (<18), which increased from 0.8% in 2014 to 2.8% in 2021, due primarily to dual credit enrollment. This means that more than 67% of the undergraduates at public universities are under 22-years-old in 2021, whereas that percentage was just above 60% in 2014.
  • Percentage of 18-24 Year-Olds EnrolledA key metric related to the health of an educational system such as a state’s public higher education institutions is the proportion of 18-24 year-olds who are enrolled at public colleges and universities. In 2010, the estimated population of 18-24 year-olds in Texas was 2.57 million, and there were a total of 717,924 (27.9%) 18-24 year-olds enrolled in public institutions in Texas (as shown in the blue bar at the bottom). In 2021, the estimate population of this important age demographic increased to 2.85 million. While the general population of 18-24 year-olds increased by 11% from 2010, the total enrolled increased to just 744,262 in 2021, which is a 3.7% increase. As seen below, Texas continued to increase the percentage enrolled through 2019, almost reaching 29%, before the effects of COVID-19 resulted in substantial drops in 2020 and 2021.
  • Percentage of 18-24 Year-Olds Enrolled by Institution Type: When we examine the enrollment percentages of 18-24 year-olds by institutional type, we can see that public universities have continued to see its share of the 18-24 year-old population increase. In 2014, the percentages were relatively close at 13.4% for public colleges and 13.7% for public universities. By 2021, a gap of more than 4 percentage points had opened, with universities at 15.3% and colleges just below 11%.
  • Share of 18-24 Year-Old Enrollment by Institution Type: If we examine more closely the breakdown of enrollment by institution type, we can see that the market share of 18-24 year-olds has shifted significantly toward public universities. In 2014, there was essentially a 50/50 split between public universities and public colleges in terms of the 18-24 year-olds enrolled in the fall semester. By 2021, almost 8% of the market share had shifted to public universities to where nearly 6 out of 10 students who are 18-24 are attending a public university in Texas. Once certified enrollment figures are published by the THECB, we will be able to determine whether the uptick in enrollment at public colleges in fall 2022 has helped that sector regain market share of this age demographic.
  • Undergraduate Enrollment at Universities by Age Category: This visualization is provided as a resource for those wanting a campus-level view of age-related data. The stacked bar charts show THECB age categories for each campus, organized by System, and comparing 2014 to 2021. The Age Group, System, and University can be filtered using the drop-down menus on the right. The age groups are “<18”, “18-21”, “22-24”, “25-29”, “30-34”, “36-50”, and “51+” and are presented from left-to-right in segments.


So What?

There are so many positive aspects to the population growth in Texas. However, as shown above, the age group trends are not necessarily good news for future enrollment of Texans in public higher education institutions. In general, the population of Texas is growing older, as indicated by the increased median age from 2010-2021. Additionally, with the decline in the under 5 population in the last decade, as well as moderate increases in the under 30 population, replicating the healthy growth in enrollment seen from 2010-2019 will be a challenge. Given these general statewide trends, what do the age-related trends look like at a more local/regional level, and how do those trends potentially affect institutions differently? Those will be key questions that will be addressed in our next blog post.

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