Sybil Low by Sybil Low

An eye-opening article has been recently published by the Hechinger Report. The highlight is the drastic decline in university enrollment in Japan. A staggering number of 18-year-olds has dropped nearly by half in just three decades. Such an alarming trend is also emerging in the United States. The concearns about the future of the American higher education system are rapidly raising. What can the US learn from Japan’s experience to mitigate the impact of demographic changes?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Japan’s university enrollment crisis impacts education and economic growth.
  • Declining enrollment erodes Japan’s global economic competitiveness.
  • Japanese universities adopt coping strategies to counteract enrollment decline.
  • US must learn from Japan’s experience to address its own enrollment challenges.

The Severity of Japan’s Enrollment Decline and its Relevance to the US

An in-depth analysis by the Hechinger Report shows the number of japanese 18-year-olds who do not proceed their higher education. The numberhas decreased significantly, from over 2 million in 1990 to only 1.1 million today. The projections are that 880,000 will have been less intered in graduating from the univerity.

The trend has had dramatic consequences on Japanese colleges and universities. It affects the quality of education as well as the nation’s economic growth. Yushi Inaba, a senior associate professor at International Christian University, emphasizes that Japan’s predicament could serve as a valuable lesson. The US policymakers and higher education institutions that are already grappling with declining enrollments can adopt international practices.

Economic Competitiveness Threatened by Declining Enrollment

One major repercussion of Japan’s dwindling university enrollment is the erosion of economic competitiveness on the global stage, especially when compared to rapidly advancing rivals like China. Tohoku University professor Akiyoshi Yonezawa notes that industry leaders and policymakers in Japan are now confronted with a growing sense of crisis. In response, some Japanese companies have shifted operations overseas and started recruiting university-educated foreign workers to make up for the diminishing pool of local talent.

Coping Strategies Adopted by Japanese Universities

To counteract the declining student population, Japanese universities have resorted to lowering their standards to fill seats, resulting in concerns about the overall quality of education being provided. Despite these measures, over 40% of private universities in Japan still struggle to fill their government-allocated enrollment quotas. Some institutions have found success by targeting niche areas, forging stronger partnerships with high schools, and responding more quickly to employer and student demands for specific disciplines and programs.

While the United States has not yet experienced the same severity of enrollment decline as Japan, the National Center for Health Statistics reports that the US birthrate has been falling consistently. This trend has already led to an 11% drop in college and university enrollment between 2010 and the present. The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education projects a further 10% decrease in the number of high school graduates from 2026 to 2037, exacerbating the issue and raising concerns about the future of higher education in the country.


The Hechinger Report’s article on Japan’s declining university enrollment numbers serves as a stark warning for the United States. Americans are witnessing a decreasing birthrate and an overall decline in college enrollment. By examining Japan’s experience and the strategies they have employed, American institutions can gain valuable insights to address the challenges posed by demographic shifts and ensure the continued competitiveness and quality of their higher education system.


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