Early numbers show 4,170 students enrolled in Oxford schools this year, an increase of 84 students from last year, or about 2 percent.
Roy Bennett, student coordinator for Oxford’s schools, said enrollment will fluctuate for several more weeks, but early signs show the district continuing a long trend of steady growth.
That growth has continued despite a leveling off in the city’s population, according to the Census Bureau’s latest estimates. Oxford has grown steadily for years, to 21,348 residents in 2010 from 14,592 in the 2000 count. But estimates for 2012 show the city shrinking by 73 residents.
Oxford’s school enrollment has long been linked to its population growth and new home construction, real estate professionals say, as families are drawn to the city by its schools.
“With any family moving here, their biggest criteria is schools,” said Chuck Ward, an agent at Billy Isom Realty in Oxford. “They want to get their children in the best schools that they can.”
Many families considering a move ask agents to find them homes in the Oxford school district, Ward said. Many current Oxford families upgrading to larger homes also make staying in the school district a priority, Ward said.
Even the Great Recession of 2008, with its origins in mortgage lending and its long chilling effect on home sales and construction, appears to have done little to limit growth in Oxford’s school enrollment.
“Even after the crash, we have still continued to grow a little bit every year,” Bennett said.
The average daily number of students enrolled during the first 20 days of school — a figure used to help determine a school system’s state funding — at Oxford schools in the 2006-07 school year was 3,926, according to the Alabama Department of Education. The following year that number rose to 3,985. During the 2008-09 school year it increased again to 4,002.
Last year, Oxford schools’ enrollment stood at 4,084, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. (The state Department of Education’s online enrollment numbers do not list the 2011-12 school year.)
Another indicator of the health of Oxford’s home construction is the number of city-issued new home building permits.
In 2007 – the year before the recession began – Oxford issued 94 building permits for new homes. In 2010 that number was 62, and a year later 40 permits were issued. In 2012, the city issued 36 such permits.
There have been 28 new home-construction permits issued through August of this year, for an average of 3.5 homes a month.
Ward said today he’s seeing more homeowners pay to have individual custom homes built and fewer buying spec homes, or houses that homebuilders construct without first having made a sale.
The discrepancy between the slowing of the city’s population growth and the continued increase in enrollment at the schools points to more school-age children and fewer older residents in Oxford. Census data seem to support that.
The Census Bureau estimated that 24.8 percent of Oxford’s population in 2000 was under the age of 18. By 2010, that number had increased to an estimated 25.2 percent.
If Oxford is getting younger, the city is bucking a statewide trend, according to the 2013 Alabama Population Data Sheet, released last month by Auburn University at Montgomery’s Center for Demographic Research.
According to the center’s findings, 58 of the state’s 67 counties, including Calhoun County, saw a decline in the percent of the population under age 18 between 2010 and 2011.
Only three counties — Coosa, Montgomery and Perry — showed some increase in the percent of population below age 18 between those years, according to the data sheet.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.