Exceeding even the most generous predictions by Kansas University officials, enrollment at KU this fall rose by the largest margin since 1986, officials said Thursday.
There are 28,849 students enrolled at the university, up 659 students or 2.3 percent from last year.
KU officials said a slow economy lured some students back to school and additional scholarships helped boost enrollment.
"It's particularly gratifying even in a year when there was a tuition increase, the students still voted for KU with their feet," Chancellor Robert Hemenway said.
KU's total enrollment includes 26,458 students at the Lawrence and Overland Park campuses, and 2,391 students at the KU Medical Center. It's the largest KU enrollment since 1993 and the fifth-largest in school history.
KU's rate of retaining freshmen was the best on record. Eighty-one percent of 2001 freshmen returned for their sophomore year. That's up about 5 percent since 1994, the year before Hemenway took office.
Hemenway said establishing the Freshman/Sophomore Advising Center and HawkLink, a minority recruitment and retention program, had begun to pay off for the university.
Officials at KU and Kansas State University, which both had about 25 percent tuition increases for Kansas residents, said they had been uncertain how students would react to the tuition boosts.
Nationally, enrollment figures generally decrease as tuition increases.
Both schools set aside 20 percent of additional tuition to fund scholarships for the most needy students.
"We're actually thrilled," said Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett, senior vice provost at KU. "We were concerned when we increased tuition that we'd have a significant drop."
Pat Bosco, associate vice president for institutional advancement and dean of student life at KSU, said most students at KU and KSU weren't affected by the slow economy or tuition increases. KSU enrolled 22,762, up 1.6 percent.
"Students decide very early to join the K-State family," Bosco said. "The increase was $300, and we put aside 20 percent for students and families who documented need. We don't have a part-time, nontraditional market. We're a fairly stable environment."
All schools growing
All state universities reported increased enrollment. The largest increase was at Fort Hays State University, which had 766 more students, for a 13.6 percent increase. A record 6,392 students are enrolled this fall.
Almost all the increase 713 students came on the university's Virtual College, its online selection of courses.
President Edward Hammond said he thought the economy played a major role in the enrollment increase. He said the increase was especially impressive considering declining high school graduation numbers in western Kansas.
Other enrollments at state universities: Emporia State University, 6,005, up 3.1 percent; Pittsburg State University, 6,751, up 0.4 percent; and Wichita State University, 15,534, up 4.6 percent.
Overall in the state, there are 86,293 students enrolled in state universities, up 3.2 percent from 2001.
McCluskey-Fawcett attributed part of KU's large increase to recruiting efforts in the Office of Admissions and Scholarships.
"Admissions made a real full-court press on new recruits this year," she said.
David Burge, interim associate director for recruitment, said officials had visited 700 high schools and 230 college fairs from June 2001 to May 2002. They lured 4,700 students to schedule campus visits, up 10 percent from the previous year.
"We really push the campus visits," he said. "Studies indicate it's one of the most important if not the most important factor in college decisions. We think our campus is very beautiful, and our faculty and staff are very helpful with getting students to come here."
KU officials also touted several other figures in their enrollment totals:
New undergraduate transfer students increased 9.3 percent to 1,462 this year.
KU's freshman class of 4,074 is the third consecutive class of 4,000 or more.
Thirty percent of KU's first-time freshmen scored 27 percent or higher on the ACT, about the same as last year. Nationally, only 13 percent of students who take the ACT score 27 or higher.
The average freshman scored 24.3 on the ACT, above the national average of 22 and the highest for any state university.