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The number of people in college-age range is declining

Colleges and universities may want to take note: The number of people in the college age range of 18 to 24 is falling.

The nation's population is expected to grow by more than 13 million, or an annual average of 0.8 percent a year, from this year through 2020.

Virginia will see 403,585 new residents, or 0.9 percent a year, in the next five years. And the Richmond metropolitan statistical area will gain 67,346 people, or 1 percent a year.

However, not all age groups will grow over that period. While the number of echo boomers and retirees will increase, the number of college attendees over this next five-year period will decline, according to data based on the U.S. Census projections.

The “echo boom” births in the United States peaked in 1990. The children of that peak became college-freshman around 2008. Since then, the population of 18 to 19 year olds in the nation has trailed off.

Children born at the peak of the echo boom are now about age 25, and most are out of college. As a result, the size of the prime college-aged population is on the downswing.

The prime college-attending ages of 18 to 24 makes up about 58 percent of the college student population according to fall 2013 enrollment data from the 2014 Digest of Education Statistics. The U.S. population of people in that age range peaked in 2013 at 31,535,000.

As of 2015, this segment of the population has slipped 1 percent to about 31,214,000.

This downturn is expected to continue until 2020 when the number of people 18 to 24 hits a trough of about 30,555,000 - a drop of 2.1 percent from 2015 levels. 

Some areas of the country will see more drastic declines, while other areas can expect to see no drop at all.

Nine states are projected to grow in the 18 to 24 segment in the next five years, including Utah (up 3.9 percent) and Texas (up 3.4 percent).

States forecast to see steeper-than-average declines include Michigan (down 6.9 percent) and New Mexico (down 6.8 percent).

By comparison, Virginia is expected to see a 0.9 percent drop and the Richmond metro area is projected to decline by 1.0 percent.

There is some good news for those wanting to see an increase of population in the college-aged segment.

The number of U.S. births hit a trough in 1997. Many children born in that year are beginning their freshman years in college.

Following 1997, the number of births began trending upward and peaked in 2007 at a height surpassing that of the echo boom.

So while post-secondary schools are facing unfavorable demographics in the short run, another swell is on its way.

On another end of the pendulum, retirees - aged 69 and older - are growing by double digits. 

Nationwide, the population in that age group is expected to increase by 18 percent from 2015 through 2020.  The growth of this segment in Virginia (up 19 percent) and the Richmond metro area (up 21 percent) are both faster than the nation.

The fastest growing states are expected to be Alaska (27 percent) and District of Columbia (26.1 percent), while the slowest growth is expected in Connecticut (14.5 percent) and Rhode Island (14.9 percent).

This demographic group will put increased demand on the health care system for many years to come.

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