The campuses of many of America’s once distinguished institutions of higher education have been dominating the news in the past few weeks as pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, and antisemitic protesters scream, chant, incite violence, refuse to vacate their tent cities, and make demands of school administrations. The prestige of the schools is plummeting before the nation’s eyes.

Jewish students aren’t safe on campus. Classes have been canceled or moved to remote only. Buildings have been closed. And the University of Southern California has canceled its May 10 graduation ceremony.

Parents, future college-bound students, and employers are taking notice and quickly looking elsewhere than these schools — and for good reason. With the leadership of these colleges and universities allowing the situation to get this severe and faculty members taking part with students in the protests, these schools have lost their luster nearly overnight. They are no longer highly coveted institutions, nor are their graduates sought after.

This damaging higher education exposure comes on the heels of the K-12 education “great parent awakening,” which began in the spring of 2020 when schools shut down for in-person learning overnight as the fear of COVID-19 overtook the world. When classes were reoffered to children, it was through remote video sessions, where moms and dads had a front-row seat in their child’s classroom — day after day. What parents witnessed, spanning from the lack of high-quality instruction to radical nonacademic, often political content, first shocked them and then caused outrage as their concerns were ignored.

The veil had been lifted on K-12 education, and as a result, student enrollment has dropped significantly nationwide, with a substantial number of parents finding an alternative for their children. There was an exodus in the fall of 2020, and the enrollment downturn has continued. For the 2022-2023 school year, 37 states had a drop in public school enrollment. California public schools lost 420,000 students that year. In Oregon, enrollment in district public schools fell 9.4%.

Nationwide, two-thirds of public school districts experienced an enrollment decline last year. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 2.4 million more students will leave public education by 2031.

With a decline in birthrates dating back to 2008, school districts already faced smaller student populations before COVID necessitating budget cuts. Yet with the temporary federal funding granted to districts through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, known as ESSER funds, many failed to adapt to the enrollment decline and instead allocated the funds toward expenses as if they were permanent.

With the landmark passage of universal or near-universal school choice in West Virginia in 2021, Arizona in 2022, followed by Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah in 2023, and Alabama this year, parents have the ability to move their children outside of the public system like never before in history — and they are doing so. In Florida, for example, over 407,000 students received access to funds to take to the educational provider of their choice for the current school year.

Considering the universal school choice implications now in 11 states, the projected 2.4 million students cutting ties with their district public school will likely be much higher. Gone are the days of saying that even with school choice, 90% of parents will still send their children to their assigned district public school.

While the conditions that caused the curtain to be pulled back on K-12 district public schools and elite higher education institutions differed, both have been exposed and will face long-term enrollment implications, which will inevitably harm their bottom lines.

The byproduct of consumers looking and enrolling elsewhere just might be the best scenario for these students — as well as for the schools, which over time will be forced to change to attract new students and retain current students to maintain their accustomed enrollment rates.