One of the jobs of a college president is to spend time thinking about the future of the college, including what could happen long after he/she has left the institution. What are the factors that will affect the college? How can the president prepare the institution to handle those factors? Can the institution leverage or minimize those factors (depending on their expected impact)?
For a community college that serves a particular region, like FM, the population of a region has a huge impact on the health of the institution. Given that, we look at population trends now and for the future. A recent Cornell Program on Applied Demographics Report shows significant population decline in both Fulton and Montgomery counties beginning in 2020. While we have seen a declining and aging of the area’s population, the data predicts a much faster rate of decline between 2020 and 2040.
If this prediction of population decline is true, it will cause significant problems for FM with regard to recruiting local students.
However, it will not only be a problem for FM.
A declining population means that there are fewer people to fill the jobs in local companies; fewer students in our local school districts; fewer people spending money locally on goods and services; fewer people to create a community; and, fewer people to support the tax base in our municipalities and counties.
We cannot sit back and do nothing. We must address this looming issue for our region. What can we do? We MUST get more people to live, work and play in our region. Each county is beginning to address this issue by launching a marketing campaign about living and working in our area. This is definitely a step in the right direction, but we need to do more.
We need to develop our cities to be social centers where people can live and play. Many people, particularly younger folks, are looking for “walkable communities” where they can live and walk to coffee houses, restaurants, social activity centers, theaters and stores in a concentrated area that is safe and vibrant. If we don’t have those spaces, we won’t attract people to our region.
We need to focus. That means we need to have our local municipalities work together and recognize that we may need to focus on one area first. Then, as that area demonstrates growth, we can move on to another area. Scattering our efforts around the region too much will not provide the results that the region will need.
Lastly, we need to recognize and celebrate the diversity of the potential new residents. If we are successful in recruiting new residents to our region, the data suggests that many of our new neighbors will be much more diverse than our current population. That diversity may include ethnic background, religious beliefs, cultural traditions, or any number of other differences. Our communities will grow and develop in a much more multicultural and vibrant manner than they have in recent history.
If we work together, we can develop a future that turns the current predictions from a declining population to a growing population. We will all benefit if we grow.