Enrollment on KU’s Lawrence campus falls for third straight year
photo by: Chris Conde
Story updated at 6:56 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019:
For the third consecutive year, enrollment on the University of Kansas’ Lawrence campus has declined, according to numbers released by the school on Wednesday.
Both KU and the Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday released enrollment figures. The university’s totals showed the Lawrence campus had the equivalent of 21,332 full-time students on Sept. 20, when enrollment counts are taken. That’s a loss of 281 students — or about a 1.3% decline — from the same period a year ago.
The latest numbers are the lowest enrollment figures for the Lawrence campus since 2011. Since the beginning of the decade, the Lawrence campus has seen its enrollment numbers for full-time equivalent students drop by 1,570 students. A different set of statistics that counts all students regardless of whether they have full-time status shows a decline of 1,502 students on the Lawrence campus since 2010.
“Certainly, we’d prefer all of our campuses (to) grow each year, and we continue to work toward that goal,” said university spokesman Joe Monaco. “We are a multi-campus institution, and all of our campuses are important to our mission.”
KU’s other major campuses did post enrollment gains, according to KU figures. The KU Medical Center in Kansas City had a full-time equivalent enrollment of 3,140 students, up from 3,050 a year ago. The Edwards Campus in Johnson County had 990 full-time equivalent students, up from 933 in 2018.
In a press release, Monaco attributed the university’s overall lowered enrollment “to a decline in graduate students, which offset growth in the Lawrence undergraduate population.” Monaco said year-to-year variation is expected, but that he is hopeful that recent changes made to the graduate education program will “enable us to enhance our efforts in this area.”
Numbers released by the Kansas Board of Regents show the Lawrence campus is not the only one struggling to attract new students. Kansas State University suffered the largest decline in enrollment for the year. Fort Hays State and Wichita State were the only universities in the regents system to post enrollment gains, although KU Med, K-State’s veterinary medicine school and Washburn’s Institute of Technology also posted increases. Here’s a look at the Regents’ numbers, which report full-time equivalent students, but use a different method to calculate that number than what KU uses:
• University of Kansas: 21,329, down 0.82%
• Kansas State: 17,528, down 3.1%
• Wichita State: 11,397, up 0.99%
• Fort Hays State: 9,562, up 0.94%
• Pittsburg State: 5,844, down 2.4%
• Washburn: 4,710, down 4.4%
• Emporia State: 4,416, down 1.7%
• Washburn Institute of Technology: 1,232, up 4.9%
• KU Medical Center: 2,774, up 1.2%
• K-State Veterinary Medicine: 732, up 0.21%
The Regents also reported that enrollment in community colleges totaled just over 40,500, a decline of about 2.7%. Enrollment in technical colleges increased by about 2.8% and now stands at just under 6,000 full-time equivalent students. While KU fell in its enrollment, other metrics have achieved all-time highs, such as its one-year retention rate, four-year graduation rate, and minority population.
“Of course, more meaningful than enrollment are institutional metrics related to retention, graduation, talent and diversity, and this year’s record-setting performance in these areas demonstrates that KU is successfully enrolling talented students who go on to graduate in a timely manner,” Chancellor Douglas Girod stated in the press release. “Looking ahead, we will have an exciting opportunity to enhance student recruitment and retention through our university strategic planning process, which will begin later this semester.”
When asked what ideas Girod would bring to the strategic plan that would help increase enrollment at the Lawrence campus, Monaco did not offer specifics.
“I encourage you to join us for the strategic plan launch event later this semester,” he said.
Nationally, college enrollment is on the decline. Monaco said some of the issues colleges are facing nationwide include “declining state support, rising tuition, increased student debt load, changing demographics, shifting opinions on the value of higher education, and rapidly changing workforce demands.”
In a news release, Regents President and CEO Blake Flanders said, “We know that jobs with family sustaining wages increasingly require some level of education beyond high school.
“Last year, the Regents, in partnership with the Legislature and Governor, increased access for Kansans by holding state university tuition flat. To ensure continued accessibility the Board will remain focused on affordability. We look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature in continuing this focus on adequate state investment in our postsecondary system.”
More enrollment statistics
According to KU’s statistics, the university has achieved all-time highs in the following metrics:
• One-year retention rate – 86.2% (third consecutive all-time high)
• Four-year graduation rate – 49.8% (seventh all-time high in eight years)
• Six-year graduation rate – 66.5% (second consecutive all-time high)
• Entering freshman class GPA – 3.64 (tied) (fourth consecutive all-time high)
• Minority population – 22% (19th consecutive all-time high)
• KU Medical Center’s enrollment is at an all-time high.
• The number of first-time freshmen enrolled in the School of Engineering is 644 — an all-time high. That’s 15.6% of the freshman class.
• Minority first-time freshmen headcount is 998 – an 8% increase from last year – and 24.2% of the entering freshman class, which is the highest on record.