After years of growth, the number of applications being received by Algonquin – and colleges and universities across Canada – is in decline.

“Our population has dropped and it’s dropped everywhere so there’s less students to fill our programs,” said Anne Kalil, Algonquin’s manager of student recruitment.

Canada is experiencing a drop in population in the 17-29 year-old demographic due to a decrease in replacement rates and a large drop in families with three or more children, according to Statistics Canada.

As the 17-29 age group is traditionally a large drawing pool for the post-secondary system, the drop in demographics is beginning to be reflected in the number of applications to post-secondary institutions.

As of Feb. 23, Ontario colleges have received 13,121 fewer applications than they did last year, according to Jeff Macnab, Algonquin’s registrar.

“The difficulty is that colleges and universities need students to help us continue to grow and to make sure that our infrastructure is safe and clean and our technology is up to par,” said Kalil.

So how do colleges combat Canada-wide population fluctuations?

To Kalil, the answer is simple.

“We have to diversify.”

If the numbers of young people in Canada are in decline, there are two places to look: outside of that age group, and outside of Canada, she said.

Non-direct students – those who do not come to post-secondary straight out of high school – are a growing makeup of the college system. But there are challenges to cultivating that number.

“If you’re trying to recruit high school students there’s a pretty tried and true (method),” says Macnab. “The other students are a little trickier because they’re in different places.”

Another source of potential students outside the traditional pool is international students.

“These are international students that come from all over the world to have the experience of coming to Canada and to enjoy these beautiful Canadian winters,” said Kalil. “(They) come for a variety of reasons: some want a Canadian education, some want to learn English.”

That number is growing. In winter 2015 there were 1,301 international students at Algonquin, up from 2014’s 1,080, according to Macnab.

International students pose a logistical challenge to Algonquin’s recruiters, but it is being overcome.

“We have recruiters that go all over the world, Middle East and Asia, Russia and the Ukraine,” said Kalil. “We have students from Africa.”

Macnab agrees that diversity is key. “A mix of students that can bring a variety of experience – and that helps the learning environment. So clearly I see the benefit to all students, so I think it’s all exciting.”