Key Facts Public School Student Enrollment Overall
With population growth in the Northern Virginia region has come substantial student enrollment growth in the region's public elementary, middle, and high schools since 2004. On September 30, 2004, there were 315,898 public school students in the region. By September 30, 2019 student enrollment had increased to 423,670. In 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world. Fall student enrollments have been a different story due to the impacts and transformations caused by the COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019 students were 16.7% of the total population.
COVID-19 Pandemic Impact
Fall 2020: School enrollment dropped in the region for the first time since at least 2003, with a drop of 16,413.
Fall 2021: Enrollment dropped slightly further by fall 2021, with a drop of 626 from 2020.
2020 and 2021 decreases: Largely attributed to public school students transferring to at-home schooling and private schools, and to the overall decline in the region's population from mid-2020 to mid-2021.
Slow Recovery from COVID-19 Pandemic
Fall 2022: Students that were home-school or attended private school during the peak of COVID-19 started to return to public schools and a Northern Virginia population rebound was underway. The 2022 fall enrollment was 4,081 higher than the prior year.
Fall 2023: Enrollment of 411,329, which lags pre-pandemic enrollment by 12,341 or 2.9%. The 2023 fall enrollment only 617 higher than in 2022.
Slow regional recovery: In 2020 and 2021, students were 16.0% of the total population. It rose slightly in 2022 to 16.1% but greatly lagged the pre-pandemic share of 16.7%. The population estimate for 2023 is unavailable until mid-2024. The slow recovery is directly correlated with the population rebound that is underway. The lower shares since 2019 can be attributed to the impacts of COVID-19 when at-home and private schooling accelerated in the region, and out-migration of young-adults with children was occurring at a much greater rate than in normal times. The slow growth can also be attributed to declining birth rates. Birth rates have steadily declined nationally and in Northern Virginia. Northern Virginia's birth rate per 1,000 total population was 15.2 in 2010 compared to 11.7 in 2020 according to the Virginia Department of Health. From 2020 to 2022, Northern Virginia's five largest jurisdictions aggregated together had the same birth rate rather than a decline that has been typical for over a decade, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
County/City recovery: The only county/city to have surpassed the 2019 pre-pandemic level as of 2023 was the City of Alexandria, with enrollment at 16,439 in 2023 compared to 16,307 in 2019. Alexandria's 2023 enrollment was the highest enrollment on record since 1971.
Future Growth and Planning
The Washington region is forecasted to have much population growth in the next few decades, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG). A significant amount of that growth is forecasted to be in Northern Virginia.
The Northern Virginia region had a population of over 2.54 million in 2022 and is forecasted to be more than 3 million by 2040. See the NVRC Demographic and Economic Fact Sheet for more details.
A multitude of variables alter student enrollment trends, including new development, transfers to and from private schools, in and out migration rates, and changing size and composition of families in existing housing stock. With growth comes challenges in maintaining the high quality of education and school facilities in the region. To maintain the high quality of education, planning and acquiring land or buildings for school sites to accommodate future growth is vitally important, but has been increasingly challenging in this region with quickly diminishing land supply.