Enrolment Trends

Recently, I was asked by a prospective applicant about the subject of expansion.  There are many dimensions to the question of expansion but I would like to focus this blog post on the subject of enrolment trends.

Over the past 15 years, Waterloo Engineering has steadily grown the size of its undergraduate program offerings.  We have added new programs such as Mechatronics Engineering, Nanotechnology Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Architectural Engineering.  We have also slightly increased the number of students entering our programs in first year in some of our other engineering programs.  Overall, this has resulted in a steady increase to our first year Waterloo Engineering enrolment as shown in the graph provided below:

First Year Enrolment Graph

We understand that we are a very popular destination for students wishing to study engineering.  Over the past decade, we have seen an increase in the number of applicants to our engineering programs and we have also seen a (slight) increase in the quality of our applicants.  To meet perceived demand, we have increased our supply of available spaces where practical to do so.

Our co-op program is the primary reason for our growth.  Many engineering applicants realize the value of practical engineering experience.  While other universities offer co-op placements and internships, Waterloo Engineering is known for having a highly successful co-op program with strong ties to companies worldwide.

However, the enrolment trends in the Province of Ontario have been moving in the opposite direction in recent years.  The number of students in Grade 12 has been decreasing since 2009-10.  According to the Ministry of Education – Education Facts webpage (http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/educationfacts.html), Grade 12 enrolment has dropped by 18.2% since 2009.  The Grade 12 enrolment numbers are shown in the graph provided below:

Grade 12 Enrolment Graph

Looking at the enrolment numbers for earlier grades, our current projections suggest that the downward trend is likely to continue for at least another decade unless high school age students move in large numbers to the Province of Ontario.  The downward trend in Grade 12 enrolment cannot be ignored easily.  It is a significant consideration when proposing plans for expansion.

Some people might argue that a particular university should educate all engineers in the Province of Ontario.  If every student wants to study at Waterloo, why not?  I personally believe there is value to having choice.  Some students want co-op while others do not.  Some students want to study in a big city while others prefer a small town.  Some students want small class sizes while others want larger class sizes to establish a strong network of classmates.  Some students want to study close to their home while others wish to study abroad.  Perhaps this is why selecting a university is such a difficult decision.  There are so many choices to consider.

If 61 years ago people did not believe it was important to have choice, the University of Waterloo might not have existed at all.  The University of Waterloo was founded not only to meet a need for more highly trained individuals but also to offer a unique choice to applicants.  Co-op education was an essential part of our education from the first day that we opened.  This innovation has had a lasting impact upon our university and universities around the world.