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).

Who's next?

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 mkennedy@primediabusiness.com.

Top 100 school districts by enrollment, 2003-04
Rank District Enrollment
2003-04
#
schools
Enrollment
2002-03
2002-2003
rank
1-year
change
2002-03
per-pupil spending
Enrollment
1993-94
1993-94
rank
10-year
change
(1993-2003)
Enrollment
1988-89
1988-89
rank
15-year
change
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%
2 Los Angeles 747,009 693 746,852 2 0.02% $8,447 639,129 2 16.88% 592,881 2 26.00%
3 Chicago 434,419 633 436,048 3 -0.37% $7,967 409,499 3 6.09% 394,587 3 10.09%
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%
7 Houston 211,499 308 212,099 7 -0.28% $7,236 200,445 6 5.51% 190,290 6 11.15%
8 Philadelphia 189,779 263 192,683 8 -1.51% $7,554 207,667 5 -8.61% 191,141 5 -0.71%
9 Hawaii 183,609 284 183,829 9 -0.12% $8,016 180,529 8 1.71% 167,488 8 9.63%
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%
14 Dallas 160,584 227 163,347 13 -1.69% $7,435 142,652 11 12.57% 130,904 10 22.67%
15 Detroit 153,034 261 173,742 11 -11.92% $9,063 173,295 9 -11.69% 174,081 7 -12.09%
16 Montgomery County, Md. 139,201 194 138,983 17 0.16% $10,580 113,429 19 22.72% 98,533 19 41.27%
17 San Diego 137,960 185 140,753 16 -1.98% $8,482 127,258 14 8.41% 117,168 13 17.75%
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%
21 Memphis, Tenn. 116,224 185 118,039 21 -1.54% $7,005 105,978 21 9.67% 105,628 15 10.03%
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%
25 Baltimore County 108,523 167 108,297 24 0.21% $8,744 96,402 23 12.57% 82,086 28 32.21%
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%
29 Milwaukee 97,359 233 97,293 28 0.07% $10,352 95,259 24 2.20% 91,996 22 5.83%
30 Jefferson County, Ky. 95,582 173 95,651 31 -0.07% $7,663 93,529 25 2.20% 92,315 21 3.54%
31 Baltimore City 94,049 189 96,230 30 -2.27% $9,639 113,354 20 -17.03% 107,486 14 -12.50%
32 Albuquerque, N.M. 90,537 148 88,120 32 2.74% $6,414 92,697 26 -2.33% 85,087 25 6.41%
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%
35 Fresno, Calif. 81,408 103 81,222 35 0.23% $7,769 76,349 36 6.63% 64,446 41 26.32%
36 Fort Worth, Texas 80,335 145 81,081 36 -0.92% $7,034 72,114 41 11.40% 68,033 35 18.08%
37 Austin, Texas 79,007 111 78,608 37 0.51% $7,580 71,664 42 10.25% 62,733 45 25.94%
38 Virginia Beach, Va. 76,304 86 75,902 38 0.53% $7,268 74,880 37 1.90% 66,970 37 13.94%
39 Mesa, Ariz. 75,401 91 75,269 39 0.18% $5,289 67,639 46 11.48% 61,061 50 23.48%
40 Cypress-Fairbanks, Texas 74,877 60 71,165 47 5.22% $6,799 48,252 76 55.18% 36,324 103 106.14%
41 Jordan, Utah 74,761 85 73,808 41 1.29% $4,520 70,256 43 6.41% 62,702 46 19.23%
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%
47 Granite, Utah 70,771 109 71,181 46 -0.58% $4,595 79,746 32 -11.25% 75,697 29 -6.51%
48 Cleveland 69,655 122 71,616 44 -2.74% $10,199 73,633 38 -5.40% 72,116 33 -3.41%
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%
53 Washington, D.C. 65,099 170 67,522 51 -3.59% $13,328 80,678 31 -19.31% 84,792 26 -23.23%
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%
60 Columbus, Ohio 63,098 153 64,175 53 -1.68% $9,946 63,877 49 -1.22% 65,160 39 -3.16%
61 Santa Ana, Calif. 62,874 56 63,610 55 -1.16% $7,371 48,407 75 29.89% 40,028 90 57.08%
62 Arlington, Texas 62,454 77 61,928 62 0.85% $6,115 48,667 74 28.33% 42,153 81 48.16%
63 Washoe County, Nev. 62,103 102 60,384 65 2.85% $6,120 43,715 91 42.06% 35,518 108 74.85%
64 Tucson, Ariz. 61,448 126 61,958 61 -0.82% $5,983 60,529 55 1.52% 56,520 57 8.72%
65 Fort Bend, Texas 61,248 59 59,489 67 2.96% $6,500 41,981 98 45.89% 31,104 130 96.91%
66 Davis, Utah 60,749 96 60,367 66 0.63% $4,692 57,933 58 4.86% 51,994 60 16.84%
67 Boston 60,150 136 61,552 63 -2.28% $13,730 63,738 50 -5.63% 59,184 52 1.63%
68 San Bernardino, Calif. 57,818 65 56,096 70 3.07% $7,265 43,933 90 31.60% 36,941 101 56.51%
69 San Francisco 57,805 118 58,216 68 -0.71% $8,585 61,631 54 -6.21% 61,507 48 -6.02%
70 Pasco County, Fla. 57,510 73 54,957 73 4.65% $6,011 38,265 111 50.29% 31,619 125 81.88%
71 San Antonio 56,914 107 57,120 69 -0.36% $7,880 59,544 56 -4.42% 61,507 49 -7.47%
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%
73 Aldine, Texas 56,292 66 55,367 71 1.67% $7,326 43,539 93 29.29% 37,983 99 48.20%
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%
76 Garland, Texas 55,114 70 54,007 75 2.05% $5,763 41,134 103 33.99% 34,923 110 57.82%
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%
79 Atlanta 52,103 105 54,946 74 -5.17% $11,435 59,244 57 -12.05% 63,448 43 -17.88%
80 Sacramento 52,103 78 52,850 78 -1.41% $8,093 49,997 71 4.21% 46,632 72 11.73%
81 Plano, Texas 51,869 72 51,039 86 1.63% $7,073 34,956 121 48.38% 28,724 141 80.58%
82 Jefferson Parish, La. 51,453 85 51,501 85 -0.09% $6,645 57,270 59 -10.16% 57,827 55 -11.02%
83 Alpine, Utah 51,240 63 49,159 90 4.23% $4,413 41,601 100 23.17% 37,571 100 36.38%
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%
86 Oakland, Calif. 50,437 118 52,501 79 -3.93% $8,600 51,748 67 -2.53% 51,218 63 -1.52%
87 Garden Grove, Calif. 50,172 67 50,066 87 0.21% $6,935 41,664 99 20.42% 36,164 104 38.73%
88 Capistrano, Calif. 49,746 56 48,608 92 2.34% $6,659 31,262 148 59.13% 23,473 192 111.93%
89 Anchorage, Alaska 49,722 95 50,055 88 -0.67% $7,826 47,340 81 5.03% 40,007 93 24.28%
90 Wichita, Kan. 48,894 90 48,913 91 -0.04% $7,427 47,132 82 3.74% 47,107 70 3.79%
91 Portland, Ore. 48,344 97 51,654 84 -6.41% $7,921 54,073 62 -10.59% 53,130 58 -9.01%
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%
94 Seattle 47,588 129 47,853 93 -0.55% $8,649 45,159 85 5.38% 43,023 79 10.61%
95 Newark, N.J. 46,825 77 42,395 114 10.45% $17,652 46,835 83 -0.02% 49,823 68 -6.02%
96 Shelby County, Tenn. 46,808 49 45,439 101 3.01% $5,891 41,994 97 11.46% 34,771 112 34.62%
97 Ysleta, Texas 46,668 64 46,745 96 -0.16% $6,756 49,388 72 -5.51% 50,209 66 -7.05%
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%
100 Pasadena, Texas 46,142 56 44,836 102 2.91% $6,215 39,265 107 17.51% 35,420 109 30.27%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core Data

Urban sprawl

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.

20 largest enrollments, colleges and universities, Fall 2003
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%
Purdue University 40,376 37,094 3,282 8.85%
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%
Indiana University-Bloomington 38,589 35,551 3,038 8.55%
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