WONKY DATA DIVE: Is Baldwin High School shrinking?


Image credit: Google Maps

From a square footage standpoint, Baldwin High has grown substantially over the years, thanks to several expansions and renovations. BHS alums from 25 or 30 years ago most likely would get lost if they walked around the school these days.

However, the number of students at BHS is less now than it was back in 1988, when the facility first opened.

Enrollment no doubt has declined over the years, and BHS soon will be a "3A school," according to the Georgia High School Association's recent realignment. This means that Baldwin will be competing in one of the smaller classifications in Georgia beginning next fall (there are seven classifications total). 

As recently as 2001, BHS was competing in the largest classification in Georgia, back when 5A was the largest classification. These days, there are eight classifications in Georgia, meaning that Baldwin will be competing around the 43rd percentile. Back in the day, Baldwin competed in its region against schools like Warner Robins and Northside-Warner Robins. Now, it will be competing against schools like Harlem and West Laurens.

The Georgia Department of Education recently conducted its most recent head count, or "Full-Time Equivalent" (FTE) count. The DOE placed Baldwin High's enrollment at 1,294. For research purposes, FTE counts are readily available online going back to 1994. Here are the FTE counts for BHS in October 1994:

• ninth graders – 677

• 10th graders – 376

• 11th graders – 337

• 12th graders – 281

• total – 1,671

Meanwhile, here's the most recent FTE count from October 2023:

• ninth graders – 421

• 10th graders – 357

• 11th graders – 290

• 12th graders – 226

• total – 1,294

In other words, enrollment at BHS has declined by nearly one-quarter (23 percent) in the last 29 years. How did this happen? Well, there are likely multiple reasons. One of those reasons is not the pandemic, though. Many pundits predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic would lead to a decline in public school enrollment for various reasons. In Baldwin County, at least, that never happened. The FTE count for BHS in October 2019, which was the last one before the COVID outbreak, was 1,218 students. That's actually 76 fewer students than October 2023. Here are the FTE counts for BHS for the last five Octobers...

• 2023 – 1,294 students

• 2022 – 1,311 students

• 2021 – 1,271 students

• 2020 – 1,247 students

• 2019 – 1,218 students

So, it definitely wasn't COVID, and the decline actually began more than 20 years ago, with the big drop coming between 1998 and 2003...

• Oct. 1998 – 1,747 students

• Oct. 2003 – 1,444 students

• Oct. 2008 – 1,435 students

• Oct. 2013 – 1,349 students

• Oct. 2018 – 1,204 students

According to the FTE counts, there are roughly 60 fewer students at BHS now than there were 10 years ago, which isn't a substantial decrease. This can largely rule out more recent theories like:

• increased popularity of online school

• recent enrollment increases at John Milledge and GMC Prep

• the establishment of Milledgeville Prep

EBLA was a school that first opened in 1999, but EBLA typically has less than 100 students, grades K-12. To some much lesser extent, the declining enrollment at BHS over the years could be attributed to EBLA, but not much. 

In closing, it's not immediately clear why Baldwin High has gotten smaller over the years, from a quantitative data standpoint. Getting a clearer picture would probably require relatively extensive qualitative data – polling local parents of school children past and present, etc.

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