There are a number of positives in the annual enrollment report issued last week by Kansas University.
First, the university is maintaining its enrollment numbers. This fall's 1.1 percent enrollment increase is just about what university officials probably were hoping for. Given the current restrictions in state funding, it isn't a good time for huge increases in the size of the student body.
There also was an increase of 5 percent in the number of first-time freshmen enrolling at KU. Tight economic times may be driving more Kansas students to choose to pay in-state tuition at a state university, but there also is a 12.2 percent increase in non-resident freshmen. Although many Kansans are concerned with the stiff tuition increases that have occurred at state universities in the last few years, the fact that more out-of-state students are choosing to come to KU bolsters the administration's argument that tuition here still is a bargain compared to many schools in other states.
Another positive trend is an increase in minority enrollment at KU. Minority freshmen enrollment increased by 9.6 percent, and overall minority enrollment rose by 4.2 percent. That includes a significant 22.4 percent increase in black freshman enrollment and a 20 percent increase in Hispanic freshmen.
Some observers may wonder why a university like KU would be concerned specifically about increasing its minority enrollment. A couple of reasons come to mind. First, having more minority representation means the university is serving those populations in our state and creating an atmosphere that will make it more comfortable for additional minorities to come to KU. It's also important for students to be exposed, as they will be when they graduate, to a broad range of racial and cultural influences. That exposure can be an important component of the education they will receive at KU.
Another positive in the enrollment figures is a rise in the student retention rate. The number of freshmen who advanced into their sophomore year at KU rose from 81.8 percent last year to 83 percent this fall. It's a small increase but a good sign that qualified admissions as well as special efforts to support incoming freshmen are having the desired impact.
Overall, enrollment at all universities overseen by the Kansas Board of Regents rose by 0.8 percent this fall. The continued strength of the state's universities in spite of reduced state funding is a credit to all university faculty and staff members but especially the university leaders.
Chancellor Robert Hemenway and KU's faculty and staff should be congratulated on their efforts to deliver an educational environment and academic product that continues to attract students to KU.