While we believe our best days lie ahead, the challenges related to the future demographics of our country and the economics of private higher education are real. Beginning in 2026, the nation will experience a significant population downturn, of approximately 12% to 15%, in the number of high school seniors as a result of a decrease in birthrates during the Great Recession that began in 2008. It is exciting to contemplate a student population that will be more diverse. These students will expect a curriculum and pedagogy that acknowledges that diversity, and competition among colleges to enroll them will become even more fierce.
Across higher education, net tuition revenue (tuition revenue less institutional financial aid) has remained relatively flat since 2008, while gross tuition itself has risen approximately 50% over the last 10 years in the private liberal arts sector. At Rhodes, net tuition revenue per student for the entering class has declined by approximately 5% from its peak in Fall 2013. To continue to serve the students of the future, we will need to enhance our approach to financial aid and imagine a new approach to cost of education.
Broader economic and cultural concerns also impact the future of Rhodes. Commonplace skepticism about the liberal arts and sciences as the best approach to higher education misleads the public about the value of Rhodes and our sister institutions. The market for higher education has become noisier and more competitive. Rhodes must work ever harder to tell its story in a compelling and visible manner.