Decision making process and declining enrollments in northern New England

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Southern New Hampshire University
This research was conducted as a qualitative comparative case study of two Northern New England school districts that were in the process of responding to declining enrollments. The purpose of the study was to explore decision-making through the lens of declining enrollments. An award winning rural school in an affluent town with high performing students and high tax rates was compared to a focus school in a rural economically depressed area with comparable tax rates. The NWREL Framework (1975) was used as a theoretical lens for examining the decision making process. This framework includes the following components: (1) participatory decision-making, (2) choice, (3) process, and (4) comprehensiveness. Results indicated that a decision making process was followed to address declining enrollments in one of the districts, while the other district’s response was reactive. Both schools reported negative impacts of program reductions on school staff and climate; however, participants agreed that at the time of the interviews, the impact on the community and students was not noticeable. Results indicated that declining enrollment became a problem in both school districts when student enrollment dropped to a level that required budgetary responses in the form of reducing positions, programs and the high-end tax base. This study, though small in scale, will be useful for larger studies that might explore the phenomenon of declining enrollments. (Author abstract)