Kansas college enrollment starts to stabilize in third year of COVID-19 pandemic. Washburn down, but tech up.
Amid a long-term decline in higher education enrollment in Kansas, student headcounts have begun to stabilize in the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kansas Board of Regents fall census data released Thursday show a slight uptick in the student headcount despite a continued decrease in full-time equivalency.
"The preliminary fall enrollment report brings mixed results and continues a systemwide trend in declining enrollment over the past five years," KBOR Chair Cheryl Harrison-Lee said in a statement. "We must reverse that trend to meet the workforce needs of our state. The Board’s strategic plan, annual goals and budget ask are focused on initiatives that can leverage our system’s strengths and revitalize the Kansas economy."
The statewide drop in FTE enrollment was due to the six state universities, which saw a decrease of 1,735 FTE students, or 2.4%.
Meanwhile, community colleges and technical colleges saw smaller growth in FTE enrollment. Community colleges added 425 FTE students, or an increase of 1.2%, while technical colleges added 57 FTE students, up 1%.
Headcount increased by 1% across the higher education system, with the 2021-22 academic year now the third school year affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
"In 2020, many colleges experienced a significant decline in high school student enrollment on census day," Regents spokesperson Matt Keith said in a news release. "Several colleges reported that concurrently enrolled high school student enrollment returned closer to pre-pandemic levels on census day 2021, which helped lead to a systemwide increase in headcount.
"However, since high school students typically take fewer credit hours per semester, the headcount increase did not translate to a systemwide increase in FTE students."
Long-term trends show enrollment declines over the past five years at most universities and community colleges while enrollment at most technical colleges has grown. Across the entire system, an 8.6% drop in student headcount means nearly 16,000 fewer students attending an institution of higher education in Kansas in 2021 than in 2016.
Technical colleges, though, have experienced a collective 23% increase in headcount enrollment and 8.6% increase in FTE over the past five years. The enrollment increases have been led by Salina Area Technical College, Flint Hills Technical College and WSU Tech.
Washburn University sees drop
The enrollment headcount dropped 3.8% at Washburn University in Topeka, though the Washburn Institute of Technology saw an 11.4% increase.
The municipal university now has 5,657 students with another 1,233 enrolled at Washburn Tech.
Washburn President Jerry Farley said a large graduating class and the pandemic depressed enrollment.
"Last year, we graduated a senior class which was significantly larger than the three classes which follow," Farley said in a statement. "That was one factor in reducing the number of students. In addition, COVID led some students to postpone their college education. Those two factors combined to create a dip in enrollment despite our success in attracting new students."
Administrators expect enrollment at both the university and the technical school "will begin to climb in the next year with continuing success in attracting new students."
"There are significant numbers of job openings — particularly in technical fields — gives our graduates an important advantage," Farley said. "Many industries are facing the retirement of large segments of their skilled workforce and that translates into a strong demand for our graduates."
Regents data show that since 2016, Washburn University has had a 14.8% drop in enrollment and Washburn Tech has seen a 7.6% decline.
University of Kansas has little change
The University of Kansas in Lawrence saw its enrollment headcount grow by 66 students, or 0.2%. Meanwhile, the FTE enrollment dropped by 46, or 0.2%.
University officials attributed the headcount increase to "a 7.6% jump in first-time freshmen and an 11.6% increase in transfer students, as well as gains in new international students and strong overall retention rates."
Regents statistics also show a 2% headcount increase, or 72 more students, at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
The university, including the medical center, have 27,685 total students.
"We are pleased to have held steady on enrollment this year and to have seen growth in key areas such as first-time freshman and transfer students," Chancellor Douglas Girod said in a statement. "This year’s data indicate we have weathered the worst part of the pandemic, which speaks volumes of the work our faculty and staff have done to recruit, educate and support students during such an uncertain time."
Girod said officials are working to improve the university and to recruit and retain top students. Additionally, the university's freshman class is the most racially and ethnically diverse in KU history.
"The reality is, even before the pandemic, we were facing the national context of declining college enrollment, along with flat or declining population here in the Midwest," Girod said. "These challenges haven’t gone away."
Over the past five years, KU has seen a 3.8% drop in student enrollment while the KU Medical Center has seen a 6.2% increase, according to Regents data.
Kansas State has 3% drop
At Kansas State University in Manhattan, officials pointed to their "highest graduation rate in recent history" in an announcement that overall enrollment declined while "key areas" saw growth.
The total student enrollment of 20,229 was a 3% drop. Additionally, new student enrollment declined 1%.
"While enrollment is down slightly, university administrators planned for a slight decrease and do not anticipate any effect on the university's budget for the current school year," university officials wrote in a news release.
International enrollment is a key source of revenue for schools.
"An indication that the effects of the global pandemic are easing on enrollment is that new international freshman student enrollment is up more than 65% from a year ago," K-State officials said.
The university saw enrollment increases among new transfer students, graduate students, international students and K-State Online. In Salina, the Aerospace and Technology Campus is about to built a third residence hall because of continued enrollment growth.
"K-State continues to lead all Regents institutions in key student success indicators: the student retention rate of 86% is tied for highest, while K-State's six-year graduation rate of 68.4% is the best and well above the 63.9% national average for four-year doctoral institutions," university officials said. "Larger graduating classes have led to an overall decrease in enrollment as smaller incoming classes in previous years work through the system."
Karen Goos, K-State vice provost for enrollment management, said student application numbers show the university's strategy is working.
"Efforts to streamline tuition and revamp our scholarship programs to address affordability are gaining traction," Goos said. "Last year, we had record numbers of inquiries and applications, which is a positive trend in our long-term efforts to grow strategically."
Regents enrollment data over the past five years show a 15.3% drop in headcount enrollment at K-State and a 3.3% increase in K-State Veterinary Medicine enrollment.
Emporia State reports 7.3% drop
Emporia State University officials reported a 7.3% drop in undergraduate enrollment and a 0.8% increase in graduate student enrollment. The graduate student enrollment is the highest on record, as were the graduation rates and the retention rates for sophomores to juniors and for juniors to seniors.
"We expected lower undergraduate enrollment this year. After a senior year of high school drastically affected by COVID, many first-year students chose to take a gap year before starting college," said Jim Williams, ESU senior vice president of student affairs and enrollment management, in a statement. "These pandemic concerns paired with several years of record graduation rates negatively impacted this fall's undergraduate enrollment."
Regents numbers show 5,615 students enrolled this semester at Emporia State, down 3.7% from last fall and down 4.6% from five years ago.
"Sustaining and growing enrollment is a combination of recruiting new students and offering programs that allow all of our students to fulfill their dreams," said ESU President Allison D. Garrett. "As Emporia State emerges from the pandemic, we expect strong enrollments to follow."