KU enrollment grows by nearly 1,600 students; freshman class largest in history
photo by: Shawn Valverde/Special to the Journal-World
Updated at 1:52 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27
The University of Kansas has its largest freshman class ever, and has hit a new 13-year high in enrollment, according to figures released by the Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday.
In addition, the new numbers for the fall 2023 semester show that KU had the largest enrollment increase of any Regents university in the state.
KU’s enrollment grew 6.7% to 25,469 students as of the 20th day of classes this semester. That’s an increase of nearly 1,600 students from a year ago.
Freshmen drove the increase. As the Journal-World has reported for weeks, KU leaders were expecting this freshman class to be the largest in history. It was. KU welcomed 5,259 freshmen this semester, which was an 18% increase from a year ago. The class broke the freshman class record set in 2008.
“We are pleased to welcome this historic freshman class and to have grown enrollment to the highest level in years,” Chancellor Douglas Girod said in a release. “These numbers demonstrate that talented students from across the state and nation see the benefit of attending a top research institution like KU to prepare for their lives and careers. Additionally, these numbers speak to the hard work our faculty and staff do to recruit talented students and then support them so they can succeed here and earn their degrees.”
Girod previously has said that he believed KU’s recent success in athletics — a national championship for KU men’s basketball in 2022 and a big boost in national exposure for KU’s football program — have helped make KU more top of mind with potential students across the country. University leaders, though, also have pointed to several behind-the-scenes changes related to how KU recruits, with increased emphasis on several out-of-state markets. KU also has revamped portions of its financial aid packages for students, and the state has provided additional dollars for financial aid in recent legislative sessions.
The out-of-state efforts showed signs of success with this fall’s numbers. Out-of-state enrollment for the freshman class increased 24% from a year ago. However, enrollment numbers for in-state freshmen also were strong, up nearly 14% from a year ago.
KU leaders also said they were pleased with the academic quality of the freshman class. The freshman class entered KU with a 3.65 GPA, which was just 0.01 point off of the all-time mark set in 2021 and 2022.
“It’s one thing to grow in size,” Girod said, “but we are especially proud to have grown with talented, diverse students who are poised to address Kansas’ workforce needs in high-impact fields. Kansas employers look to KU as an engine of economic growth, and these freshmen will help us fulfill that role.”
KU’s enrollment growth is part of a larger story that happened statewide. The Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public higher education system, said enrollment overall at the six Regents universities was up 1.7%, or nearly 1,500 students in total.
Growth has not been the norm in recent years. The last time total enrollment grew at the Regents universities was 2019. Over the last five years, enrollment has declined by 4.8% at the Regents universities in total.
This year, KU was the standout of the class. Its 6.7% increase in enrollment was the best among Regents universities. That has not been the recent trend. Over the last 10 years, Wichita State has been the runaway leader in enrollment growth in the state.
Wichita State this year had the second-largest enrollment increase, at 3.7%. KU and Wichita State accounted for nearly all the enrollment growth in the Regents’ university system. Kansas State did technically grow, but only by 0.1% or 27 students. However, K-State leaders may count that as a victory as K-State has been mired in a deep enrollment decline. Over the last five years, enrollment has dropped more than 11% and over the last 10 years it has declined 20%.
In 2013, KU and K-State were nearly equal in terms of enrollment on their main campuses. KU had 24,435 students at its Lawrence and Edwards campuses, while K-State had 24,116 on its Manhattan campus. Since then, K-State has seen its enrollment drop by more than 4,800 students, while KU has seen its enrollment grow by a little more than 1,000 students.
Here’s a look at enrollment totals for all the Regents universities:
KU: 25,469 students, up 6.7% for the year; up 2.6% for five years.
K-State: 19,269 students, up 0.1% for the year; down 11.4% for five years.
Wichita State: 17,548 students, up 3.75% for the year; up 11.2% for five years.
Fort Hays State: 12,843 students, down 0.8% for the year; down 17.3% for five years.
Pittsburg State: 5,732 students, down 2.2% for the year; down 13.5% for five years.
Emporia State: 4,658 students, down 12.5% for the year; down 19.6% for five years.
Here’s a look at some other facts and figures from the enrollment report:
• KU’s medical school has its enrollment counted separately. It grew by 3.2% to a total of 3,886 students, most of whom are based at the school’s Kansas City, Kansas, campus. Its enrollment has grown about 5% over the last five years and about 16% over the last 10 years.
• Among KU’s freshman class, minority enrollment is up 14.8% from a year ago. Minority students now make up 25.7% of the student body. Minority enrollment is at its highest number on record, KU said in a release.
• KU retained 85.1% of last year’s freshman class, meaning about 15% of last year’s freshmen did not return to the university for their sophomore year. That retention rate was the highest since 2019.
KU’s latest increase in enrollment comes at a time when universities across the country and the state are bracing for what higher education leaders call a “demographic cliff.” That refers to projected declines in the number of high school graduates due to years of lower birthrates in the U.S. population.
Girod, in his comments Wednesday, said KU has work to do to turn this year’s enrollment increases into a longer-term trend.
“This is a banner year for KU, and it’s important to take a moment to celebrate and be proud of the work we’ve done,” he said. “That said, we must continue our efforts to recruit and retain top students and create a university they want to attend. The reality is, higher education is facing some strong headwinds, and enrollments nationally are expected to drop in the coming years. That’s why we must continue to seek ways to improve our university through our strategic priorities, which align with the Kansas Board of Regents’ strategic plan, the needs of Kansas businesses and communities, and our broader aspirations as one of the nation’s leading research institutions.”