Weldon Cooper projects 7% growth in Surry enrollment through 2029

Published 10:54 am Thursday, February 22, 2024

The University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center is projecting a 7% uptick in enrollment for Surry County Public Schools over the next five years.

The rural county of 6,500 residents began the current school year with 660 students across its three schools. Data that Weldon Cooper released in mid-January shows the total growing to 709 by 2029.

The prediction, if accurate, would buck a decades-long trend. According to Virginia Department of Education data, Surry saw a 42% decline over 20 years from the 1,142 enrolled at the start of the 2003-04 school year. Surry saw an uptick in students only two years over the past 20 and has averaged a 2.6% loss annually.

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Surry saw its highest decrease in two decades at the start of the 2020-21 school year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when enrollment dropped nearly 8% from the 738 enrolled the year before. If Weldon Cooper’s numbers prove accurate, it could be at least another five years before Surry returns to its pre-pandemic enrollment.

Oddly enough, lingering impacts from the pandemic may also be playing a role in Surry’s projected resurgence. According to Weldon Cooper demographer Hamilton Lombard, internet-based teleconferencing platforms like Zoom and remote work options that emerged during the pandemic’s early days drove a segment of the population unconcerned with commute distance to relocate to more rural localities.

“If that trend continues it will either slow enrollment decline or reverse it in most of these rural counties,” Lombard said.

Division Superintendent Serbrenia Sims did not immediately respond to The Smithfield Times’ request for comments.

A separate population study Weldon Cooper released Jan. 30 shows a net 0.5% decrease in Surry’s population over the past three years.

According to Virginia Department of Health data, Surry saw an average 30 more births than deaths from 2005 to 2020. Weldon Cooper’s data shows 96 more deaths than births in Surry in the three years since. During the same three years, 59 more people moved into the county than moved out.

Neither of Weldon Cooper’s studies factored in the potential impact of the first-in-the-nation combination data center and hydrogen fuel hub Surry’s supervisors approved for rezoning on Feb. 8. Middleburg-based Green Energy Partners plans to build the 3 million-square-foot campus on roughly 600 acres adjacent to Dominion Energy’s nuclear power plant. An economic impact analysis submitted with the company’s rezoning application estimated the business would bring more than 1,300 permanent jobs over a 13-year buildout expected to culminate in 2036.