KU enrollment grows for the year, fueled by largest freshman class since 2008

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

The Kansas Union on the University of Kansas campus is pictured on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022.

Updated at 1:50 p.m. Thursday

KU leaders for months have said they thought a national championship in basketball and new student recruitment efforts would result in positive enrollment numbers for the University of Kansas this fall.

New numbers from the Kansas Board of Regents on Thursday proved them partially right.

By one standard, KU’s enrollment grew for the first time since 2016. The Regents counted 20,642 full-time equivalent students attending KU, an increase of 90 students from a year ago. That’s a growth rate of 0.4%, which was second only to Wichita State University’s 4.4% growth rate.

The numbers were fueled by KU’s largest freshman class since the fall of 2008, which also followed the national championship in men’s basketball.

“These numbers demonstrate that talented students from across the state and nation see the benefit of attending a leading public research university like KU to prepare for their lives and careers,” KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said in a message to campus Thursday morning.

By another metric, though, KU’s enrollment declined slightly. When the Regents counted students regardless of how many credit hours they were taking, KU’s overall headcount fell by 0.4%, or 86 students.

Either number, however, serves as a reminder of the enrollment challenges KU is facing in a state that is demographically challenged with small growth. KU’s headcount enrollment is down 1,019 students — or 4.1% — from 2017. Its FTE enrollment figure is down 968 students, or 4.5% during the same time period.

KU still has not seen its enrollment numbers rebound to pre-pandemic numbers either. In the fall of 2019, KU had a headcount enrollment of 24,629 students, or about 750 students more than what it has currently.

Girod said enrollment growth continues to be a challenge for KU and other universities.

“While we are pleased with this year’s freshman class, we must continue our efforts to recruit and retain top students and create a university they want to attend,” Girod said in a statement. “The reality is, college enrollment continues to decline across the nation, and we continue to face flat population trends here in the Midwest. These challenges haven’t gone away …”

The latest numbers from the Regents continue to show that several other universities in the state are facing much bigger downturns than KU. Kansas State University, the second-largest university in the state, has seen about a 14% drop in enrollment over the last five years. Only Wichita State has posted enrollment gains over the last five years, and some of that has been fueled by an aggressive program to offer in-state tuition rates to residents of several out-of-state metro areas.

Enrollment for the KU Medical Center is counted separately by the Regents. Headcount enrollment at KU Med was up 1% or 39 students for the year, for a total of 3,766 students. FTE enrollment grew by a single student.

Here’s a look at headcount numbers for all Regents schools, with both their one-year and five-year growth rates:

• KU: 23,872 students, down 0.4% for year; down 4.1% since 2017

• Kansas State: 19,242, down 2.6% for year and 13.9% since 2017

• Wichita State: 16,921, up 5.1% for year and 12.2% since 2017

• Fort Hays State: 12,951, down 8.2% for year and 14.2% since 2017

• Pittsburg State: 5,858, down 2.6% for year and 15.2% since 2017

• Emporia State: 5,324, down 5.2% for year and 7.1% since 2017

• KU Medical Center: 3,766, up 1.0% for year and 5.9% since 2017

• KSU Veterinary: 480, up 0.8% for year and 6.2% since 2017.

Here’s a look at the FTE numbers, which are calculated by the Regents by taking total student numbers and dividing by 15 credit hours for undergraduate students and 12 credit hours for graduate students.

• KU: 20,642, up 0.4% for year; down 4.5% since 2017

• KSU; 15,639, down 2.6% for year; down 16.4% since 2017

• Wichita State: 11,784, up 4.4% for year and 6.1% since 2017

• Fort Hays: 7,973, down 6.1% for year and 14.1% since 2017

• Pittsburg State: 4,999, down 2.8% for year and 19.8% since 2017

• Emporia State: 3,943, down 3.0% for year and 11.7% since 2017

• KU Med: 2,802, up 1 student for year and 3.1% since 2017

• KSU Veterinary: 771, down 0.9% for year; up 7.8% since 2017.

The Regents also released enrollment figures for the state community college system. It saw a drop of 630 students, or a decline of 1% from a year ago. The state’s technical college system saw an increase of 569 students, a 6% growth rate for the year.

Thursday’s enrollment data also included several other key statistics about graduation rates and the composition of the KU student body. Here’s a look:

• KU’s four-year and six-year graduation rates both hit new highs, KU said in a release. The four-year rate now stands at 55%, while the six-year rate is at 67.3%.

• The freshman class totaled 4,457 students, making it the second-largest class in KU’s history. The average GPA for the freshman class was 3.66, a new record for a KU freshman class. Minority students accounted for 28.5% of the freshman class, also a KU record.

• Among all classes, minority students make up 25% of the KU student population, which is the highest on record at KU.

• Enrollment by out-of-state students also hit a new high at 41.2%.