Surprisingly, the pandemic has been pretty good for enrollments at local high schools

The pandemic has been an enrollment disaster for public schools in general. Students who barely held out in person dropped out via Zoom and didn’t come back.

Except in the Concord area high schools, it seems.

During the three years of the pandemic era, total enrollment at seven high schools in and around Concord remained flat, increasing from 4,380 in October 2019 to 4,371 in October 2022. That drop of just 9 students, or 0.2%, is less than the margin of report error. (See the end of this story for detailed numbers.)

By comparison, statewide high school enrollment fell 4.4% from 49,444 to 47,288 during the same period.

The pandemic trend in the Concord area is particularly surprising because, up until the outbreak of COVID-19, high school enrollments had been declining, just like the rest of the state. For example, in the previous three years from October 2016 to October 2019, enrollment at these seven regional high schools fell by 5.7%, much faster than the 3.1% national decline.

That monitor will address pandemic-era enrollment trends in local elementary and middle schools next week.

So what has happened to the local high schools that stopped their enrollment decline since 2019? Good question.

The Concord area, like all of New Hampshire and most of the Northeast, has been losing students for years due to regional demographic trends where people have smaller families. Enrollment at Concord High School, to give an example, was nearly 1,900 in 2006 and is now less than 1,500.

And New Hampshire’s birth rate shows no signs of spawning hordes of new students anytime soon: It’s currently the second lowest in the country. Government policies that shift public tax dollars to private schools and homeschooling through Education Freedom Accounts cannot help.

“Over the past two decades, student enrollment in New Hampshire has steadily declined. While the pandemic accelerated the fall of 2020 with a 5% drop, there was a slight increase in enrollments in 2021 reflecting a COVID rebound, followed by a more typical 1.1% drop in 2022,” said Frank Edelblut , Commissioner for Education , in a prepared statement.

Overall, this means it would be very big news if the pandemic had at times halted the decline in Concord-area high school enrollment.

It’s too early to tell, but I suspect this is just an outlier, possibly caused by the impact of the pandemic on employment and housing in the region compared to work in other parts of the state. It could also be a function of the high schools we included in the sample: Bow and Hopkinton Schools both fell as much as the state in percentage terms, and Concord wasn’t much better, while Pembroke Academy, Franklin and Pittsfield saw their enrollment rise – strong in the case of Pittsfield.

Whatever the reason, it’s a reminder that the old adage that “predictions are difficult, especially about the future,” still applies.

Here are the numbers for high schools (grades 9 through 12):

SCHOOL – 2019 – 2022 – % change 19-22

Concord – 1,496 – 1,467 -1.9%

Bow – 630 – 603 – -4.2%

Franklin – 253 – 270 – +6.7%

Hopkinton – 315 — 305 – -3.2%

Merr. Valley – 786 – 784 – -0.2%

Pembroke – 757 – 783 – +3.5%

Pittsfield – 143 – 159 – 11.0%

REGION – 4,380 – 4,371 – -0.2%

STATE – 49,444 – 47,288 – -4.4%