For decades, the U.S. population has been shifting from urban centers to the suburbs. That trend can be seen in this year's AS&U 100, the list of the school districts and colleges with the highest enrollments in 2003-04. Large urban school districts still make up a significant portion of the list, but over the years, several city districts with static or declining enrollment fall in the rankings or drop off the list altogether, supplanted by suburban systems with surging populations.
The districts still on the list that have experienced double-digit enrollment loss from 1988 to 2003 were Detroit; Baltimore; New Orleans; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; and Jefferson and East Baton Rouge parishes in Louisiana. Sixteen districts that were on the Top 100 list in 1988 are no longer represented. Most of those are urban districts, such as Cincinnati; Indianapolis; Buffalo, N.Y.; Pittsburgh; Birmingham, Ala.; and Tulsa, Okla.
The districts that have replaced them on the list tend to be systems situated in the suburbs of large cities: Elk Grove and Capistrano in California; Plano, Garland, Fort Bend and Cypress-Fairbanks in Texas; Howard County, Md.; and Clayton County, Ga.
The fastest of them all
With a mountain of data and an infinite number of ways to crunch the numbers, it's difficult to bestow upon any one district the crown of “fastest growing district.” But however the information is spun, it's a good bet that the Clark County (Nev.) district, which includes Las Vegas, is in the running.
Clark County has become a huge district — the nation's sixth largest in 2003 with 270,000 students — and the rapid growth reflected in the last 15 years of data has yet to let up. From 1988 to 2003, the district added 165,378 students — more than the total enrollment of all but 12 U.S. school systems.
Its growth rate from 1988 to 2003 was 157 percent, the fastest of the top 100 districts (excluding Guilford County, N.C., which saw its numbers surge because of district consolidation). Clark County's 86 percent growth rate from 1993 to 2003 also was the fastest among the Top 100 school systems.
From 2002 to 2003, Clark County added about 14,000 students — nearly twice the increase of any other of the Top 100 districts. It opened 13 new schools in August 2004 and was scheduled to open 11 more for the 2005-06 year.
Overall, the list of largest districts parallels the nation's general population trends. U.S. Census estimates released last year show three states that added more than 300,000 residents from July 2003 to July 2004: California, Texas and Florida. On the list of the largest school systems, Texas is represented by 16 districts; Florida and California have 13 each. Florida, all of whose districts are countywide, has the highest concentration of very large districts — seven systems with student populations of more than 100,000. Some Floridians, concerned about the effectiveness of those “mega” districts, are hoping to change state law so counties can form smaller districts (see sidebar, p. 22).
Of districts not in the Top 100 in 1988, Cypress-Fairbanks had climbed the highest by 2003. In those years, the Houston-area district more than doubled, from 36,324 to 74,877, and rose in the rankings from 103rd to 40th. The Top 100 district that rose the most in the rankings from 1988 to 2003 was Elk Grove, which climbed from 213th to 74th.
From 2002 to 2003, only three districts dropped off the list: St. Louis (100th to 119th); Omaha (98th to 101st); and Minneapolis (97th to 111th). Their replacements in the Top 100: Newark, N.J., (114th to 95th); Shelby County, Tenn., (101st to 96th); and Pasadena, Texas, (102nd to 100th).
Becoming one of the nation's Top 100 districts is not necessarily desirable; having to cope with enrollment growth, especially when budgets are shrinking, can provide administrators with plenty of headaches. In any event, several districts whose enrollments fall just below the Top 100 are good candidates to turn up on the list in the next few years. It's no surprise what states they're in: Texas, California and Florida.
They are: Lewisville, Texas, the 107th-largest district with 44,024, which has grown 80 percent in the last decade; Corona-Norco, Calif., the 109th-largest district with 43,998, which has grown 71 percent in the last decade; and Osceola County, Fla., the 110th-largest district with 43,911, which has grown by 90 percent from 1993 to 2003.
Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Rank||District|| Enrollment |
| # |
| Enrollment |
| 2002-2003 |
| 1-year |
| 2002-03 |
| Enrollment |
| 1993-94 |
| 10-year |
| Enrollment |
| 1988-89 |
| 15-year |
|1||New York City||1,023,674||1,225||1,077,381||1||-4.98%||$11,920||1,005,521||1||1.81%||936,153||1||9.35%|
|4||Miami-Dade County, Fla.||371,785||375||373,395||4||-0.43%||$6,956||308,465||4||20.53%||268,047||4||38.70%|
|5||Broward County, Fla.||272,835||264||267,925||5||1.83%||$6,239||189,862||7||43.70%||142,202||9||91.86%|
|6||Clark County, Nev.||270,529||298||256,574||6||5.44%||$5,774||145,327||10||86.15%||105,151||18||157.28%|
|10||Hillsborough County, Fla.||181,900||237||175,454||10||3.67%||$6,411||135,104||13||34.64%||119,022||12||52.83%|
|11||Palm Beach County, Fla.||170,260||213||164,896||12||3.25%||$6,983||122,145||15||39.39%||95,433||20||78.41%|
|12||Orange County, Fla.||165,992||190||158,718||15||4.58%||$6,358||113,638||18||46.07%||91,752||23||80.91%|
|13||Fairfax County, Va.||164,235||204||162,585||14||1.01%||$9,488||135,413||12||21.28%||127,518||11||28.79%|
|16||Montgomery County, Md.||139,201||194||138,983||17||0.16%||$10,580||113,429||19||22.72%||98,533||19||41.27%|
|18||Prince George's County, Md.||137,285||203||135,439||18||1.36%||$8,621||115,918||17||18.43%||105,312||16||30.36%|
|19||Duval County, Fla.||129,557||179||128,126||19||1.12%||$6,350||119,785||16||8.16%||105,269||17||23.07%|
|20||Gwinnett County, Ga.||129,104||98||122,570||20||5.33%||$7,545||76,482||35||68.80%||58,269||54||121.57%|
|22||Pinellas County, Fla.||114,510||169||114,772||22||-0.23%||$6,407||100,135||22||14.36%||90,555||24||26.45%|
|23||Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, N.C.||114,071||137||109,767||23||3.92%||$7,188||82,842||28||37.70%||75,064||31||51.96%|
|24||Wake County, N.C.||109,424||126||104,836||25||4.38%||$6,695||73,263||39||49.36%||61,003||51||79.37%|
|26||Cobb County, Ga.||102,034||106||100,389||26||1.64%||$7,529||77,563||33||31.55%||64,932||40||57.14%|
|27||DeKalb County, Ga.||99,550||141||97,967||27||1.62%||$8,476||81,468||30||22.20%||72,738||32||36.86%|
|28||Long Beach, Calif.||97,560||91||97,212||29||0.36%||$7,357||76,783||34||27.06%||66,784||38||46.08%|
|30||Jefferson County, Ky.||95,582||173||95,651||31||-0.07%||$7,663||93,529||25||2.20%||92,315||21||3.54%|
|33||Jefferson County, Colo.||87,172||167||87,925||33||-0.86%||$8,230||82,760||29||5.33%||75,316||30||15.74%|
|34||Polk County, Fla.||84,135||147||82,179||34||2.38%||$6,654||69,718||44||20.68%||62,538||47||34.53%|
|36||Fort Worth, Texas||80,335||145||81,081||36||-0.92%||$7,034||72,114||41||11.40%||68,033||35||18.08%|
|38||Virginia Beach, Va.||76,304||86||75,902||38||0.53%||$7,268||74,880||37||1.90%||66,970||37||13.94%|
|42||Anne Arundel County, Md.||74,508||119||74,787||40||-0.37%||$8,361||69,020||45||7.95%||64,328||42||15.83%|
|43||Brevard County, Fla.||73,901||108||72,601||42||1.79%||$6,023||62,556||53||18.14%||51,583||62||43.27%|
|44||Fulton County, Ga.||73,319||87||71,372||45||2.73%||$8,599||50,190||70||46.08%||40,020||92||83.21%|
|45||Denver County, Colo.||72,100||145||71,972||43||0.18%||$7,888||62,673||52||15.04%||58,664||53||22.90%|
|46||Northside (San Antonio)||71,798||93||69,409||49||3.44%||$6,808||54,992||60||30.56%||48,528||69||47.95%|
|49||Nashville-Davidson County, Tenn.||68,651||126||67,954||50||1.03%||$7,614||72,483||40||-5.29%||68,063||34||0.86%|
|50||Orleans Parish, La.||67,922||129||70,246||48||-3.31%||$6,560||85,983||27||-21.01%||84,098||27||-19.23%|
|51||Guilford County, N.C.||66,971||105||65,677||52||1.97%||$6,943||54,451||61||22.99%||23,851||188||180.79%|
|52||Lee County, Fla.||66,466||83||63,172||59||5.21%||$6,206||47,390||80||40.25%||39,264||96||69.28%|
|54||Seminole County, Fla.||64,904||72||63,446||56||2.30%||$5,849||52,688||65||23.19%||45,022||75||44.16%|
|55||Mobile County, Ala.||64,774||104||64,058||54||1.12%||$6,295||66,580||47||-2.71%||67,901||36||-4.61%|
|56||Greenville County, S.C.||64,245||93||63,270||57||1.54%||$6,350||53,280||64||20.58%||51,150||64||25.60%|
|57||Volusia County, Fla.||64,089||87||63,000||60||1.73%||$6,360||53,972||63||18.74%||43,922||77||45.92%|
|58||Prince William County, Va.||63,404||76||60,541||64||4.73%||$7,666||44,881||87||41.27%||40,127||89||58.01%|
|59||El Paso, Texas||63,200||93||63,185||58||0.02%||$7,198||64,141||48||-1.47%||63,169||44||0.05%|
|61||Santa Ana, Calif.||62,874||56||63,610||55||-1.16%||$7,371||48,407||75||29.89%||40,028||90||57.08%|
|63||Washoe County, Nev.||62,103||102||60,384||65||2.85%||$6,120||43,715||91||42.06%||35,518||108||74.85%|
|65||Fort Bend, Texas||61,248||59||59,489||67||2.96%||$6,500||41,981||98||45.89%||31,104||130||96.91%|
|68||San Bernardino, Calif.||57,818||65||56,096||70||3.07%||$7,265||43,933||90||31.60%||36,941||101||56.51%|
|70||Pasco County, Fla.||57,510||73||54,957||73||4.65%||$6,011||38,265||111||50.29%||31,619||125||81.88%|
|72||North East (San Antonio)||56,298||65||55,053||72||2.26%||$6,951||43,122||94||30.56%||39,558||95||42.32%|
|74||Elk Grove, Calif.||55,613||55||52,418||81||6.10%||$7,359||32,038||139||73.58%||22,077||213||151.90%|
|75||Chesterfield County, Va.||55,393||60||53,621||76||3.30%||$6,711||47,919||78||15.60%||41,469||84||33.58%|
|77||Cumberland County, N.C.||53,159||85||52,094||83||2.04%||$6,301||49,247||73||7.94%||44,116||76||20.50%|
|78||Knox County, Tenn.||52,659||77||53,411||77||-1.41%||$6,148||51,742||68||1.77%||50,116||67||5.07%|
|82||Jefferson Parish, La.||51,453||85||51,501||85||-0.09%||$6,645||57,270||59||-10.16%||57,827||55||-11.02%|
|84||San Juan, Calif.||50,906||82||52,212||82||-2.50%||$7,678||47,650||79||6.83%||46,715||71||8.97%|
|85||Clayton County, Ga.||50,555||57||49,594||89||1.94%||$7,151||37,961||113||33.18%||32,676||118||54.72%|
|87||Garden Grove, Calif.||50,172||67||50,066||87||0.21%||$6,935||41,664||99||20.42%||36,164||104||38.73%|
|92||Howard County, Md.||47,833||71||47,197||94||1.35%||$9,420||34,416||124||38.98%||27,564||150||73.53%|
|93||Forsysth County, N.C.||47,788||69||46,806||95||2.10%||$6,915||38,609||110||23.77%||38,395||98||24.46%|
|96||Shelby County, Tenn.||46,808||49||45,439||101||3.01%||$5,891||41,994||97||11.46%||34,771||112||34.62%|
|98||East Baton Rouge Parish, La.||46,644||98||52,434||80||-11.04%||$7,633||63,179||51||-26.17%||57,810||56||-19.31%|
|99||Cherry Creek, Colo.||46,594||50||45,738||99||1.87%||$7,427||33,343||133||39.74%||27,193||155||71.35%|
|Source: National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core Data|
As the continued growth of the Washington, D.C., area pushes the city's suburbs farther into Virginia, the Prince William County district has been growing steadily — and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on school facilities to house the influx of children.
The growth in Prince William County has been fueled by lower housing costs compared with Fairfax County, Va.; Montgomery County, Md.; and other areas closer to the nation's capital. Fifteen years ago, Prince William was the 89th-largest district with a little more than 40,000 students. In 2003-04, it had more than 63,000 students, and was the 58th-largest district. This fall's projected enrollment is 69,000. The growth is expected to continue throughout the next decade; by 2014, the district's enrollment is projected to be close to 87,000 students.
“You can't stop growth, but you have to prepare for it,” says Irene Cromer, the district's supervisor of community relations.
Those preparations have kept builders busy. Last year alone, the district opened five new schools to accommodate the growth: two K-5 elementary schools, one “traditional” school for grades 1 to 8, and two 9-12 high schools. This year, two more K-5 elementary schools are opening.
“In addition to the two new elementary schools that will open in September 2005, five additional elementary schools, four middle schools, one high school and additions to three schools are needed during the next five years,” says the district's budget summary for fiscal year 2006. “Over $281 million in construction bonds will be used to fund these new facilities.”
Administrators say that the addition of that permanent classroom space will enable the district to eliminate the 161 portable classrooms now being used.
While adding space at a rapid clip, Prince William County officials also have increased their emphasis on repairing and upgrading existing facilities. It has established a program to reduce the backlog of school renewal projects. Buildings will receive major upgrades when they are 20 to 25 years old instead of 37 to 40 years old.
A small proposal
With a booming population and school districts organized countywide, the state of Florida dominates the list of the 100 largest school districts.
Seven of the 22 largest school systems are in the Sunshine State. From 1988 to 2003, enrollment in five Florida districts grew by at least 62,000 each — Broward County added more than 130,000 students in that span.
Dissect the numbers any way you like — Florida districts are big. And for some people, that's not such a good thing.
“Districts have gotten bigger, but they haven't gotten better,” says Adam Hasner, a state representative from Delray Beach.
So Hasner is working to place a statewide referendum on the 2006 ballot that would give counties the power to create smaller districts.
Hasner says the huge districts found in Florida make it harder for constituents to keep track of school affairs. Some patrons have to travel long distances just to attend a school board meeting. With districts encompassing an entire county, it's more difficult for parents dissatisfied with a school district to move to a competing school system. Some studies have shown that students from poorer areas have lower achievement in larger school districts.
“They are so big and unmanageable,” says Hasner. “We really need to get back to local control.”
Hasner's proposal doesn't specify what student enrollment should be in an optimally sized district.
“I don't know if they should be 50,000, 80,000 or 100,000, but I know that 300,000-plus (the size of the Miami-Dade district) is not the optimal size,” says Hasner.
Opponents of carving counties into smaller districts argue that adding dividing lines could make it more difficult for the state to distribute education funds equitably. Some also express concern that more districts could create more bureaucracy that diverts funds from the classroom.
Hasner asserts that any proposal he puts before the legislature would ensure that funding would be distributed fairly.
Putting the “big” in Big Ten
College sports fans often argue about which conference has the best teams. But the Big Ten Conference clearly dominates in at least one area: enrollment.
Nine of the 11 Big Ten campuses are among the 20 U.S. colleges and universities with the largest enrollments. Big Ten schools have been big for quite a while. The same nine schools on the most recent list were among the 16 largest 10 years ago.
Of the 20 college campuses with the largest enrollments in 1993, 19 of them remain among the top 24 in 2003. The only exception is Wayne State University; in 1993, it ranked 20th with 34,280 students; in 2003, it had fallen to 42nd with 32,208 students.
The 10-year trends among the 20 largest colleges parallel the growth seen on the list of largest K-12 campuses. As in the K-12 list, Florida claims its share of top spots — four of 20. Central Florida grew the fastest with a 75 percent enrollment spurt, from 17,843 in 1993 to 41,535 in 2003. It climbed from 82nd to 12th on the list of largest campuses.
The latest list also reflects a trend that barely existed in 1993. With the growth of technology, the University of Phoenix Online Campus has soared to the top of the list with more than 71,000 students. The school's online campus did not exist until 1989 and did not graduate its first class until 1991.
|Campus||2003 enrollment||1993 enrollment||10-year change||% change|
|University of Phoenix — online campus||71,052||n/a*||n/a||n/a|
|Miami-Dade Community College||58,490||48,232||10,258||21.27%|
|University of Texas — Austin||51,426||48,555||2,871||5.91%|
|Ohio State University||50,731||50,623||108||0.21%|
|University of Minnesota||49,474||51,880||-2,406||-4.64%|
|Arizona State University||48,901||41,250||7,651||18.55%|
|University of Florida||47,858||37,324||10,534||28.22%|
|Texas A&M University||44,813||42,524||2,289||5.38%|
|Michigan State University||44,542||39,743||4,799||12.08%|
|City College of San Francisco||42,043||26,630||15,413||57.88%|
|Pennsylvania State University||41,795||37,658||4,137||10.99%|
|University of Central Florida||41,535||23,692||17,843||75.31%|
|University of South Florida||40,945||34,768||6,177||17.77%|
|University of Wisconsin — Madison||40,879||39,999||880||2.20%|
|University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||40,458||38,912||1,546||3.97%|
|University of Washington — Seattle||39,135||34,000||5,135||15.10%|
|University of Michigan — Ann Arbor||39,031||36,845||2,186||5.93%|
|New York University||38,188||33,309||4,879||14.65%|
| *Was not among top 120 campuses in 1993 |
Source: National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System