Kansas Public College, University Enrollment Increase of 1% Obscures Bleak Five-Year Trend

Higher education enrollment down 8.6% since 2017 despite technical college surge

TOPEKA — Student enrollment this fall semester at Kansas’ 26 public community and technical colleges and the seven public universities climbed 1% after a historic headcount collapse last year fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said Thursday.

Recovering from the higher education system’s loss of more than 14,000 students in the first year of the pandemic has implications for the future of state taxpayer funding, adjustment of student tuition rates and the viability of academic programs. Campus officials have made clear that operating costs continued to rise with inflation and weakness in the flow of tuition revenue wouldn’t help with that reality.

Overall, the fall 2021 total of 166,900 students at universities and colleges under direction of the Kansas Board of Regents was 1,700 more than at this point in 2020.

Even with the modest 1% increase in enrollment systemwide, the state’s colleges and universities have lost 8.6% of enrollment in the past five years. In that same period, community colleges suffered a 16.4% decline. That’s worse than the 4.8% fall at the six state universities and the 14.8% crash at the municipal Washburn University in Topeka. Meanwhile, technical college enrollment has gone up 23% in the past five years.

Cheryl Harrison-Lee, chairwoman of the state Board of Regents, said the trend of declining enrollment during the previous five years had to be negated.

“We must reverse that trend to meet the workforce needs of our state,” Harrison-Lee said. “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 preliminary census for the fall 2021 semester was a mixed bag. The report showed a 7.6% increase at technical colleges and a 4.5% surge at community colleges.

The most impressive growth was at Johnson County Community College, up 19.8%, and Dodge City Community College, up 18.7%. The sharpest decline was reported at Barton County Community College, which fell 9.8%. Among technical schools, enrollments increased dramatically at Salina Area Technical College, up 22.2%; Flint Hills Technical College, up 11.7%; and Washburn Institute of Technology, up 11.4%.

The six state universities collectively lost 1.7% of enrollment from one year ago, while Washburn University declined 3.8%. Wichita State University bucked the trend by increasing the student body by 3.5%. Losses in student enrollment were documented at Fort Hays State University, down 6.2%; Pittsburg State University, down 6%; Emporia State University, down 3.7%; and Kansas State University, down 3.1%.

The University of Kansas’ enrollment on the Lawrence campus was flat — enrolling 23,958 students, or six fewer than in fall 2020. KU reported a 7.6% increase in first-time freshmen and 11.6% increase in transfer 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,” said Doug Girod, chancellor of KU. “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.”

He said KU had to be steadfast in its commitment to recruit and retain top students. Prior to the pandemic, he said, the university’s enrollment was influenced by declining U.S. college enrollment and flat population growth in the Midwest.

Fall enrollment increased at the KU Medical Center by 2%, the report said, while enrollment in the veterinary medicine college at Kansas State declined by 0.2%.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Derek Nester
Derek Nesterhttp://www.sunflowerstateradio.com
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2020 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.


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