Editorial: KU enrollment concerning

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

The University of Kansas issued a news release Monday celebrating enrollment growth at the university. The same day, the Kansas Board of Regents issued a report showing enrollment at KU is down.

Turns out, enrollment is in the eye of the beholder.

This summer, the Board of Regents changed the way it calculates enrollment, moving away from the traditional 20th-day head count to a full-time equivalency metric. Instead of counting students, the Regents total credit hours and divide by 15, the average credit hours for a full-time undergraduate student per semester. The result produces the number of FTEs.

According to the Regents, the number of FTEs at KU in the fall of 2018 decreased slightly for KU’s Lawrence and Edwards campuses. Only one other Regents university — Pittsburg State — saw a decrease in FTE enrollment.

Meanwhile, KU used a traditional head count. The head count method shows KU has 28,510 students across all campuses, with an increase of 63 students from last year. KU announced that it was the fifth straight year that KU has grown total head count. In fact, 28,510 students is the highest overall enrollment at KU since 2011.

KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said the enrollment gains marked a “special year for the University of Kansas.”

But is what KU presented really an accurate picture of what’s happening at the university?

KU’s numbers are for total enrollment, including not only the Lawrence and Edwards campuses but also the KU Medical Center campuses in Salina, Wichita and Kansas City. When KU subtracts out the medical center, enrollment actually declined by 71 students from 2017.

And while KU did not break out numbers between the Lawrence and Edwards campuses, university spokesman Joe Monaco said that enrollment grew at the Edwards campus from 2017 to 2018, meaning the biggest enrollment loss is at the Lawrence campus.

In fact, using the traditional headcount method, enrollment at the Lawrence and Edwards campuses has declined by more than 2,000 students in the past 10 years, with most of that loss coming in Lawrence.

Blake Flanders, president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents, acknowledged that statewide enrollment numbers were “mixed” and said the Regents would continue to look for ways to improve on the number of people enrolling in higher education.

That’s a much more honest assessment than the spin KU put forth. Undergraduate enrollment at the Lawrence campus is the barometer for the University of Kansas and continued declines raise concerns that shouldn’t be dismissed by pointing to growth at satellites.


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