Understanding the Migration Patterns of The North American Boarding Student Population

Understanding the Migration Patterns of The North American Boarding Student Population

by Richard Phelps, Director of Research, The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS)

Since the 2011-2012 school year, The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) has requested enrollment numbers by place of origin from its Canadian and U.S. member schools.

1. Having several years of data allows TABS to track trends in addition to viewing annual statistical snapshots.
2. All these data inform a better understanding of boarding student migration patterns, both international and domestic. 

The majority of boarding students (about 65%) are domestic.3 About 40% attend boarding school in their home state or province; almost half of the rest (about 27%) enroll in an adjacent state or province. Given that the majority of North American boarding schools can be found in regional clusters—in the New England and Mid-Atlantic states, California, Ontario, and British Columbia—this close-to-home enrollment pattern means that most boarding students come from these regions, too. The majority of North American boarding students are drawn from just six U.S. states.

Moreover, a majority of North American boarding students attend school in just four U.S. states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. Just 10 states and provinces house three-quarters of all North American boarders.

Compared to the number of 14–17-year-old residents, some smaller and less populated jurisdictions host relatively larger proportions of boarding students. New Hampshire and Connecticut host more than twenty North American boarders for every thousand residents in the comparison age group. Among all other states and provinces, only Massachusetts and Vermont host boarder numbers exceeding ten per 1,000 residents. British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick host the largest ratios of boarders to 14–17-year-old residents in Canada.

Regionally charted, net migration can be seen to leave the U.S. East (i.e., New York State and New Jersey), Southeast, West, and Southwest in large numbers and other regions in smaller numbers, bound for New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, or Western Canada. New York State and New Jersey host a fair number of boarding schools themselves, but not enough to meet the in-state demand.

Net enrollment gainers are, in order, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, each with more than a thousand boarding students attending boarding schools in state rather than leaving for other states or provinces. New York State alone sends two thousand more students away to boarding school than it receives. Each of the six New England states hosts more boarding students than it sends away. Each of the six Eastern Canada provinces sends away more boarding students than it hosts.

Another way to portray the geographic migration of boarding students at TABS member schools is to split the population into stayers (students who attend school in their home state or province) and leavers (students who attend school outside their home state or province). For three jurisdictions—British Columbia, Pennsylvania, and Saskatchewan—more than three-quarters of their boarding students attend school within the home province or state. For three others—Indiana, Hawaii, and Ontario—about two-thirds enroll within their home borders.

Fourteen states and provinces have no TABS member schools; all their boarding students enroll elsewhere. Some of the most adventurous boarding students hail from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Newfoundland & Labrador, South Dakota, and Wyoming, from whence 90 percent or more attend school not only beyond the borders of their home jurisdiction, but beyond any adjacent jurisdiction’s borders.

The number of boarding students emanating from the various North American regions declined over the period from 2011-2012 to 2014-2015 everywhere except southern states and western states and provinces. Similarly, the number of boarding students migrating to the various regions generally declined over the same period, increasing only in New England and the West (see Table 1).


Table 1. 

Change in Number of Boarders from and to each North American Region, 2011-2012 to 2014-2015

Table 1 resembles the matrix that one commonly finds in a road atlas. The names of North American regions are listed along the horizontal axis. The same names are listed up and down the vertical axis representing destinations. Each cell in the matrix represents a specific origin-destination combination and the numerical change in its number of domestic boarding from 2011-2012 to 2014-2015. Cells along the “spine” of the matrix, where jurisdiction of origin and destination match, indicate the change in the number of boarding students enrolled in their home region.

Regions are defined as: Canada East (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Québec); Canada West (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan); East (New Jersey, New York); Mid- Atlantic (Delaware, DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia); New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont); Southeast (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee); Southwest (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas); West (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming); and Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin).


  1. 277 schools (out of 281 U.S. and Canadian TABS member schools), or 99%, provided complete information for 2014–15.
  2. For enrollment trends, from 2011-2012 to 2014-2015, numbers come from a large “same-school” subgroup of 252 schools that provided complete information in both school years.
  3. Our count of North American (i.e., domestic) boarding students in TABS Member Schools is 32,056.Were the non-responding schools included, we estimate the total number of domestic boarding students would be about 32,500.

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