KU’s largest school sees 12% enrollment drop for fall; some classes struggling to meet minimum enrollment

photo by: Associated Press

Students cross Jayhawk Boulevard in front of Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

The biggest school at the University of Kansas has told its faculty members internally that current enrollment for the fall semester is down 12% from where it was in 2019 and 9% from its three-year average.

John Colombo, the interim dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, delivered the news in a May 13 email obtained by the Journal-World. Colombo also said some mid- to upper-level classes in the college have been identified as not meeting the minimum enrollment requirement of 12 students.

The school is already 70% of the way through its enrollment process, which allows officials to make such projections, Colombo’s email said. As such, department chairs have been instructed to cancel an unspecified number of classes, and faculty members assigned to teach canceled courses should be reassigned to teach courses more likely to meet the minimum requirement, Colombo said.

Further, Colombo said the school was not currently anticipating rehiring faculty members without a continuing appointment to teach for the fall semester. The move would mainly affect lecturers, the email said.

“We ask that you work collaboratively to find a re-assignment that will benefit your unit. We are aware of and greatly appreciate your adaptability during this unprecedented time for our College and KU,” Colombo said.

The enrollment projection is the first glimpse of how KU’s student population may be affected as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect both the short-term and long-term outlook of higher education. The college currently comprises just over 52% of the 24,629 undergraduate and graduate students at the Lawrence and Edwards campuses — for a total of 12,840 students.

If a 12% reduction in enrollment holds through the fall semester, that would reduce KU’s student population just in the college by 1,540. The costs of such a reduction would have a dramatic impact on KU’s income from tuition and housing, among other areas.

As the Journal-World reported over the weekend, however, KU has not yet been forthcoming about its current and future financial status. Chancellor Douglas Girod has said in past weeks that the university’s initial losses would be in the range of “tens of millions” of dollars. Beyond that projection, almost no information has been shared publicly.

KU is currently planning on reopening its campuses for in-person classes in the fall semester in at least some capacity, campus leaders announced May 1. Part of that reopening plan, however, includes the option to have classes entirely in person, entirely online or a hybrid version of in-person and online classes.

If the COVID-19 situation were to worsen prior to the fall semester, forcing KU to conduct the fall semester remotely, it’s unclear how the university’s enrollment may be further affected.

KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said the university wouldn’t announce actual enrollment numbers until the 20th day of classes in September each year, in line with Kansas Board of Regents policy.

“Between now and September when those counts will be taken, the university is still heavily engaged in recruiting students throughout the spring and summer, as we are every year,” she told the Journal-World in an email. “This year in particular we expect many students and families across the nation will be delaying their decisions as they see how circumstances evolve over the next few months.”


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