Kansas University’s total fall enrollment fell for the fourth straight year in 2012, but officials said Thursday that the university’s incoming freshman class suggested improvement in the future.
According to figures released by the Kansas Board of Regents on Thursday, the university’s total enrollment fell to 27,939, a drop of about 2.7 percent from 2011. Combined enrollment on the Lawrence and Edwards campuses dropped 3.42 percent to 24,577. That decline was partially offset by a 2.8 percent increase in enrollment at the KU Medical Center to 3,362.
The incoming class of freshmen increased in size for the first time since 2008, following an effort by KU leaders to reverse declining enrollments that included the introduction of new four-year renewable scholarships for incoming students.
“We’re kind of turning the corner,” KU Provost Jeff Vitter said Thursday.
As of the 20th day of class this semester, the new freshman class numbered 3,771, an increase of 5.3 percent from 2011. The class also set KU records for average ACT score at 25.1 and for racial diversity, with minority students making up 21.3 percent of the total.
A big problem where total enrollment is concerned is that KU’s biggest class ever — the freshmen of 2008, who numbered nearly 4,500 — began to graduate in 2012, leaving a big hole to fill.
Vitter said he hoped the university’s total enrollment would come close to breaking even in 2013, as the larger incoming group from 2009 begins to graduate and the smaller 2010 and 2011 classes remain. But he said he hoped for the number to increase by 2014, with enrollment approaching the 30,000 mark in about four years. That’s near where the number topped out in 2008.
“As we continue to increase the freshman class, we’re going to see those numbers turn around and then go up, which is our goal,” Vitter said.
Vitter said the larger freshman class, as well as its improved academic chops, could be attributed to an increased focus on recruitment as well as the new renewable scholarships. And he said he expects classes to continue to grow as that effort continues.
The new freshman class also set a record for high school grade-point average, said Matt Melvin, KU’s vice provost for enrollment management. That bodes well for future enrollment numbers, he said, because it indicates the class will have good retention rates.
He said the smaller incoming classes of 2010 and 2011 would continue to pull down total enrollment numbers in coming years, though.
“It just takes some time,” Melvin said.
Overall, Melvin said he was pleased with the 2012 figures. His focus is on increasing the number, the quality and the diversity of students, he said.
“I call it the holy trinity of enrollment management,” Melvin said.
Another contributor to the decrease in total enrollment was a drop among graduate students of about 2.7 percent. Melvin said much of that decline occurred in the master’s programs in business and education at the Edwards Campus in Overland Park.
Vitter said that plans to revamp MBA programs, among other developments at the School of Business, would help in that area in coming years.
“We have a stellar faculty, we’ve got a dynamic new dean, great momentum,” Vitter said. “We’re going to make some interesting announcements very soon.”
Some of KU’s schools did experience enrollment growth. The School of Engineering increased its incoming freshman class by 22 percent and its overall enrollment by about 7.8 percent. The School of Nursing grew by 11.3 percent, and the School of Pharmacy by 6.7 percent.
And the incoming freshman class in the School of Business more than doubled as it shifted to direct admission for freshmen. Its total enrollment grew by about 2 percent.
Altogether, fall enrollment at Kansas public universities dropped by 0.15 percent. Kansas State University added the largest number of students, 515, bringing it to a total enrollment of 24,378. Fort Hays State experienced the highest percentage of growth, adding 508 students to grow by about 4 percent.
Outside of KU, the Regents institution to experience the biggest enrollment drop was Johnson County Community College, which lost 590 to fall to a total enrollment of 20,443. Community college enrollment fell by a small percentage statewide, though it increased by 13.4 percent at the Regents’ six technical colleges, which have a total enrollment of about 6,000.
— Kansas University reporter Matt Erickson can be reached at 832-6388. Follow him at twitter.com/LJW_KU.