Kansas campuses struggle for diverse student body populations

KU students visit and pass between classes outside of Wescoe Hall and across Jayhawk Boulevard from Strong Hall on Friday, Feb. 6, 2015.

Topeka — The racial and ethnic makeup of student body populations on state university campuses in Kansas has changed little over the last six years, according to a new report provided to the Kansas Board of Regents.

While the Hispanic and Latino population on campuses has measurable growth and now makes up 6.6 percent of all enrollment at state universities, the percentage of students identified as African American has not changed; it remains at just 4.1 percent.

The University of Kansas in Lawrence has slightly larger minority populations: 6.8 percent Hispanic and 4.3 percent African American, according to KU officials.

Jean Redeker, vice president of academic affairs for the Board of Regents, presented those numbers to the board during its meeting last week in Wichita.

“Each of the universities reaches out to targeted populations,” she said during a telephone interview Monday. “They’re having increasing success with the Hispanic population. That population in our state is trending up. So as those numbers trend up, so do the enrollments of Hispanic and Latino students, which is great. In terms of African Americans, it has been very steady over the years.”

Still, according to Census Bureau figures, blacks and Hispanics remain under-represented on Kansas college campuses. Hispanics and Latinos, for example, now make up 11.6 percent of the population in Kansas while African Americans make up 6.2 percent.

KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said in an email that this year’s freshman class at KU has the most minority students of any class in the school’s history, and minority students now make up an all-time high 20.6 percent of the student body.

Redeker, meanwhile, said efforts are underway at each campus to improve the diversity of student bodies.

“Universities do have a number of recruitment efforts going on for all segments,” she added. “Certainly in terms of race and ethnicity, but also in terms of different types of backgrounds and students in terms of diversity. That would include rural and urban students.”

Among the things universities have done to promote diversity, Redeker said, have been to name an officer in charge of diversity, either within the president’s office or the provost’s office. At KU, for example, Jennifer Hamer serves as vice provost for diversity and equity.

Barcomb-Peterson said KU is taking additional steps, not only to recruit more minority students, but to help make sure they are successful once they arrive on campus.

“In recent years, KU has looked nationally to recruit students, bringing in students from a wider swath of the country than Kansas and surrounding states,” she said. “KU has made changes to encourage successful outcomes — from retention through to graduation — for those students once they are here. For example, strengthening academic advising and streamlining processes for students to complete their coursework and graduate.”

Meanwhile, overall enrollment at universities has also remained relatively flat over the last six years. From academic years 2011 to 2016, according to the report, undergraduate enrollment grew only 1.2 percent, to 63,182, on a full-time equivalent basis, while graduate enrollment grew 1.8 percent, to 16,276.

The headcount enrollment actually declined slightly over that period, by 0.2 percent for undergraduates and 3.2 percent for graduate students, indicating that while there are fewer students on campus, those students are enrolling in more hours of credit.

The biggest decline has occurred among Kansas residents. Enrollment among them fell by nearly 6,000, or 7.7 percent, during the six-year period, while enrollment among nonresidents fell by only 441 students, or 1.4 percent.

Those numbers could be troubling because as part of its long-range strategic plan called Foresight 2020, the board has set for itself a goal of increasing the percentage of people in Kansas who have postsecondary degrees or certificates.

Redeker said that despite declining enrollment at the state universities, the total volume of “credentials” awarded throughout the higher education system, which includes community colleges and technical schools, has been growing.

In one year alone, from 2015 to 2016, she said, the total number of credentials awarded grew 1.2 percent.

“That number overall has been trending up from 2010 through 2016,” she said.