Sustainable Schooling in a Rapidly Changing World

Timothy WiensMeasures of a Healthy School, The CACE RoundtableLeave a Comment

Part 3: Addressing Trends

Four young students reading in a classroom.

For the past several years, I’ve taken a hard look at the trends that impact the world, and in particular, the work we do as educators. From artificial intelligence to DEI initiatives to rising interest rates and skyrocketing inflation, we have seen social, political, and economic trends impacting the work we do in our schools. We depend on the tuition revenue that comes with robust enrollment to ensure sustainability, but are we looking around the proverbial corner and planning for the not yet?

Let’s examine three trends that are impacting many schools or have the potential to impact our schools. All three will have an economic impact upon our schools in the coming decade and beyond. How we address them may have long-range effects on the viability of our schools and the students we have the privilege of serving.

The proliferation of school choice legislation in the U.S.

By the end of 2023, 32 states had passed school choice legislation providing resources (such as tax credits, education savings plans, and vouchers) to families wishing to send their children to private schools. Today, over 93,000 students across the U.S. attend private schools with support from state government-approved school choice programs. This number has increased dramatically and is projected to keep growing as states grow their existing programs and others pass new legislation.

What do these changes mean for your school and your state? As such funding becomes available, will your institution accept dollars that may enable more students who could otherwise not afford your school to attend? For some schools, their boards and governing bodies are leery of accepting state or national funds. As such, decisions around this topic will be debated and will need to be made. However we view this issue, more and more states are passing legislation beneficial to families, and in some cases, to public schools overwhelmed by enrollment and insufficient district funding to support all students.

Potentially declining economic growth

Examining trends that impact the corporate and business worlds are important ways in which we can forecast what is coming to our schools’ own backdoors. Greenberg, Padhi, and Smit (2024) state that

elevated inflation and interest rates, frustrated consumers, constrained labor markets, and domestic political volatility continue to complicate business and policy decisions. We cannot rule out a recession in the coming months, and the potential for a balance sheet reset continues to hang over the global economy.

The researchers go on to suggest that such economic headwinds, coupled with a historically tight labor market, may lead to a further decline in the economy. Whereas a recession is not guaranteed, what might this potential mean for our schools, families, students, and employees?

Likewise, intense competition for talent continues to burgeon after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. School leaders have struggled to find highly qualified faculty and staff. In recent years in the Northwest Atlanta area, where I worked for the past five years, public school teacher salaries have skyrocketed, often jumping between 8-12% a year. This competitive climate makes it difficult to both hire and retain great teachers.

Such competition is expected to increase as the demographics show that the number of working-age people will decline to levels not seen since the 1960s by the year 2040 (Greenberg, Radhi, and Smit, 2024). Many school leaders have already seen a decrease in applications for faculty positions. Moreover, differences in how current and rising generations perceive work and working benefits may produce a need for new and creative ways to fill hard-to-find positions across our schools.

“This competitive climate makes it difficult to both hire and retain great teachers.”

Shifting trends in philanthropy

What does it mean that our donors now want a more highly personalized giving experience? How about the changing views from younger donors and the impact such views may have on what and how they give? And what does it mean for us as we prepare for the greatest transfer of wealth our country has ever seen? These are simply a few of the trends in the philanthropic world. If you do a google search on philanthropic trends, you will find a host of data to help you think strategically about how and why you approach donors.

Our schools need to be prepared to both understand the shifting philanthropic landscape and speak into it in ways that are winsome and appealing to a new generation of donors who have different, and often higher, expectations than previous generations. We should be ready to capitalize on the positive aspects of these trends, as there is new interest in giving from a generation new to this world as well as continued interest from generations preparing to give their final gifts and make eternal impact.

The world around us is changing rapidly. Staying ahead of the curve and understanding what may come in the future is incredibly important for our schools as we prepare students to go into a world desperately needing positive, ethical, and most importantly, Christian leadership. How will your school seek to understand what may be around the corner and plan strategically to ensure your viability for years to come?


  • Timothy Wiens

    Timothy Wiens has spent the entirety of his 31-year career in education. He has spent time in both public and independent schools, serving as the head of three Christian schools and as a professor at Wheaton College. He has also served as the Co-chair of the Peabody Professional Institute for Independent School Leadership at Vanderbilt University and as the Co-founder and Co-director of the ADVIS-Penn Independent School Leadership Institute in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Tim holds a bachelor's degree in psychology and education and a master's degree in educational leadership from Bethel University, a MBA from the University of Oxford's Said Business School (UK), and a doctorate in organizational leadership from St. Mary's University (MN).

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