A look at the state’s universities by the numbers: KU teaching majority of classes online; enrollment trends vary widely

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus is shown on Sept. 13, 2018.

When students returned to the University of Kansas campus for the fall 2020 semester, it was clear that classes wouldn’t be normal. They would be hybrid, a word that has attached itself to the pandemic like a mask to a nose (ideally).

But no one knew exactly what a hybrid education would look like, especially in terms of how many classes would be taught in person versus online. New numbers now are giving us a look at just how prevalent online classes became at KU: More than half of all student credit hours are expected to be delivered online during this school year.

The numbers were included in a midyear report that KU officials delivered to a committee of the Kansas Board of Regents earlier this month. KU is estimating that almost 54% of all of its student credit hours will be delivered online in fiscal year 2021, which began in July 2020 and ends on June 30 of this year.

Not surprisingly, the total is a record for KU, but just how much online instruction increased is stark. KU is estimated to provide nearly 370,000 credit hours of online instruction in fiscal year 2021. The previous high was in fiscal 2020, when KU went to an online model after the pandemic hit the Lawrence area in March 2020. In that year, KU provided about 112,000 credit hours online, or roughly 19% of its total classes.

Now, a big question is: How much of this online instruction is here to stay? A good bet may be that KU will see less online instruction next school year, but may never return to the days where online instruction makes up less than 20% of its total.

“We expect that to be shifting back (to in-person classes) significantly in 2021, as the vaccine rolls out,” Jeff DeWitt, KU’s new chief financial officer, told the Regents’ fiscal affairs and audit committee on March 17. “But something I think we all are going to have to figure out and deal with is that there might be a permanent shift to more online learning as some individuals have gotten used to that.

“That is something we are going to be addressing and looking at.”

KU and Fort Hays State University were the only universities among the six Regents schools that provided an estimate for how many online hours they were teaching in fiscal year 2021. The Fort Hays numbers are tough to compare to KU because Fort Hays long has provided the majority of its class hours online, thanks to a well-established distance learning program. So, it isn’t yet possible to see if KU is using the online strategy more or less than other state universities this school year.

But all six universities did provide numbers for fiscal year 2020, which included about four months of the pandemic and included a time period when schools started to shift to online classes. Those numbers show KU’s shift to online was largely in line with what other schools did, or in some cases was a bit less. Here’s a look:

• KU: 16% of classes online in fiscal year 2020; up from 14% in fiscal year 2019.

• Kansas State: 15% of all hours online in 2020; unchanged from 15% in 2019.

• Fort Hays 2020: 51% of all hours online in 2020; down from 52% in 2019.

• Pittsburg State: 23% of hours online in 2020; up from 18% in 2019.

• Emporia State: 39% of hours online in 2020; up from 31% in 2019.

• Wichita State: 28% of hours online in 2020; up from 26% in 2019.

The batch of midyear reports provided to the Board of Regents does provide several other statistics for KU and its fellow state universities. Here’s a look at a few:

Enrollment

Most state universities have seen a decline in enrollment over the last five years, but not all enrollment problems are created equal. There are wide disparities in how much enrollment has dropped and in how well universities are doing in attracting a dwindling number of Kansas residents who are attending college.

• KU: Total enrollment since fall 2016 is down 3.4%. Enrollment by Kansas residents is down 4.6% (The numbers include KU Medical Center. As part of the midyear report, KU did not submit enrollment numbers for the Lawrence campus only. However, a separate but similar report on KU’s website shows Lawrence enrollment is down 5.3% since fall 2016, and Kansas residents on the Lawrence campus are down 4.9% during the time period.)

• K-State: Total enrollment since fall 2016 is down 14%. Enrollment by Kansas residents is down 15%.

• Wichita State: Total enrollment since fall 2016 is up 7.4%. Enrollment by Kansas residents is down 1.8%.

• Fort Hays State: Total enrollment since fall 2016 is up 8.8%. Enrollment by Kansas residents is up 9.1%.

• Emporia State: Total enrollment since fall 2016 is down 1.0%. Enrollment by Kansas residents is down 0.8%.

• Pittsburg State: Total enrollment since fall 2016 is down 14.8%. Enrollment by Kansas residents is down 13.5%.

Budgets

Funding for higher education has been tight over the last several years. As a result, the spending budgets of universities have changed. At least one school, Pittsburg State, actually is spending less money that it was in 2016. Of course, the school also has seen nearly a 15% decline in enrollment during that period.

• KU: $876.7 million in expenses in fiscal year 2020; up 8.6% since 2016. (Numbers do not include the KU Medical Center.)

• K-State: $821.2 million in expenses in fiscal year 2020; up 8.4% since 2016.

• Wichita State: $374.3 million in expenses in fiscal year 2020; up 37.9% since 2016.

• Fort Hays State: $135.2 million in expenses in fiscal year 2020; up 15.7% since 2016.

• Emporia State: $86.8 million in expenses in fiscal year 2020; up 7.2% since 2016.

• Pittsburg State: $103.0 million in expenses in fiscal year 2020; down 4.1% since 2016.

When you compare these numbers with the enrollment numbers above, you see that the two schools with enrollment growth — Wichita State and Fort Hays — have seen the greatest increase in spending. That makes sense in that more students mean more tuition and fee revenue to spend.

The pair of schools that may be more striking, though, is Pittsburg State and Kansas State. Both had enrollment declines of about 15%. Pittsburg State, though, was able to cut expenses, while K-State saw expenses increase. The numbers show some of the strains that the state’s second-largest university is facing right now.

Costs

Tuition and fees vary a lot among the six state universities, which is expected. Not all of the schools offer the same majors, and some schools offer much greater access to research opportunities, for instance. But the tuition and fee totals can be instructive, especially when you examine where the schools rank in terms of cost compared with a set of peers and competitors. As part of the midyear report, each school provided some information about its competitive position. It is not entirely clear, however, how peer schools were selected. For instance, Emporia State lists Pittsburg State as a peer school, but Pittsburg State doesn’t list Emporia State as a peer. Composition of the peer groups, of course, affects the cost rankings. All the numbers are for in-state students. Also some schools showed totals for the year, while others showed costs per credit hour. Here’s a look:

• KU: $11,166 in tuition and fees for 2019-2020 academic year. Fifth-highest cost among a group of 11 peer universities ranging from Virginia at $17,798 to Florida at $6,381. Fourth-highest cost among 11 Midwest competitors ranging from Colorado at $12,500 to Oklahoma State at $9,019.

• K-State: $10,440 in tuition and fees. Fourth-lowest cost among a group of 11 peers ranging from $16,439 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to $9,018 at Oklahoma State University.

• Wichita State: $281 per credit hour (or about $8,430 per year based on 15 credit hours per semester). Lowest cost among nine central U.S competitors ranging from the University of Texas at Dallas at $466 per credit hour to Oklahoma State at $328 per credit hour.

• Fort Hays State: $181.64 per credit hour (or about $5,449 per year based on 15 credit hours per semester). Lowest cost among 11 peers ranging from Troy University at $382 to Northeastern State University in Oklahoma at $260 per credit hour.

• Emporia State: $232 per credit hour (or about $6,960 per year based on 15 credit hours per semester). Second-lowest cost among 11 peers ranging from University of Colorado at Pueblo at $355 per credit hour to Eastern Washington at $257 per credit hour.

• Pittsburg State did not provide specific tuition and fee data. A chart, however, indicates that tuition and fees are about $7,400 per year. It ranks as the lowest cost among a group of peers that range from Ferris State at just less than $14,000 per year to Valdosta State at just less than $8,000 per year.

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