Columbia an Exception to Aging US Population

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COLUMBIA - Those born during 1946 and 1964 are known as the Baby Boomers. And today they make up much of America's aging population. However, there is growing concern that the declining fertility rate won't support this trend. 

To maintain America's current population, the rate at which those who die are replaced must stay at 2.1. If the rate is higher, the population will grow, and visa versa if it is lower. But according to the Center for Disease Control, America's fertility rate has been declining since the 1970s, and today it sits at 1.93. And if the two trends continue, the American population could begin to shrink.

However, if the enrollment in Columbia Public Schools is any indication, one might say the city is not following this path.

"Columbia is sort of an anomaly when it comes to a lot of things and growth and population size is one of those areas," according to Michelle Baumstark, the district's community relations director.

With 152 trailers and 30 school buildings, the district accommodates for more than 17,000 students. And over the past five years, the number of kids at the elementary level has increased by more than 500.

Baumstark said Columbia's attractiveness might be why the city continues to grow.

"There's a lot of resources in this community. There are higher education institutions here in this community, which attract a lot of people. There's a lot of great things that Columbia has to offer that other cities maybe in Missouri and nationwide don't have to offer," Baumstark said.

But some parents even with children at smaller schools are concerned about the future.

"We are at a very small school now, so I certainly have concerns for when we move to the middle school or high school level, just because they are so much bigger than what they are used to and what I was even used to growing up," Michelle Wheeler said, whose children attend Derby Ridge Elementary School.

But Wheeler is confident the community's needs will be addressed. 

Baumstark said the district's focus right now is on the north and south sides of Columbia. By 2015 an elementary school will be built adjacent to Battle High School. Another elementary school will open on the south side of town in 2016.