KU officials say they’re concerned about declining enrollment; fewer students on campus this fall

Kansas University officials, concerned by another decrease in enrollment, said Tuesday they’re taking steps to reverse the trend.

Fall enrollment dropped 744 students, to 28,718, according to figures released by the Kansas Board of Regents on Tuesday.

The 2.5 percent drop continues a recent trend of enrollment drop-offs at the university, after enrollment increased to a record 30,102 in 2008.

The figures include numbers for both KU’s Lawrence and Edwards campuses, as well as at KU Medical Center.

“They tell me we’ve got work to do,” said Matt Melvin, KU’s vice provost for enrollment management, looking at the numbers. Some of the decline, he said, was anticipated as KU’s freshmen classes in 2009 and 2010 dropped off from previous years.

Melvin said he was pleased with the academic success and the diversity of KU’s incoming freshmen this year.

“We’re very strong in quality, very strong in diversity,” Melvin said. “We need the trifecta. We need the quantity.”

Enrollment is increasing at KU Medical Center, which reported a 2.3 percent increase. And students were taking more credit hours at KU’s Edwards Campus in Overland Park. But they were offset by declines on KU’s Lawrence campus. KU doesn’t separate the head count for the KU and Edwards campuses, and taken together, the enrollment on those campuses fell 3.1 percent to 25,448.

KU officials announced they were taking steps to address the issue.

“For KU to achieve its mission of educating leaders, we need to reverse this decline,” KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in a prepared statement. “That’s why recruitment and retention are areas of specific emphasis in our strategic plan. And it’s why we have already undertaken initiatives to increase the number of students who come to KU ready to succeed.”

The university unveiled a new package of renewable scholarships that shows potential students how much aid they qualify for up-front, based on high school grades and standardized test scores.

Melvin said KU would be personalizing and customizing its recruitment processes more and would work to establish a pipeline to reach students and parents earlier in their careers.

A few other specific areas of students saw declines. KU enrolled only 85 new international freshmen this fall, down from 222 international students last year. Melvin said competition for international students is increasing, key KU international pipelines in China and South Korea are producing fewer overall students and KU recently added a new requirement that international students pass the TOEFL English speech and comprehension exam before they can enroll. That’s a requirement many of its competitors don’t have, Melvin said. The drop in international freshmen contributed heavily to an overall decline in the freshman class to 3,580 students.

Also, fewer students on campus are seeking master’s degrees, down 5 percent to 3,189. Many master’s degree students are seeking alternative ways to get their degree, including online degree programs and late-night classes, he said. KU has a new center looking into the university's distance course offerings.

KU and Emporia State University were the only two of the six state universities in Kansas to report drops in enrollment. ESU saw the biggest percentage decline, dropping 4.6 percent.

Kansas State University reported a 1.2 percent increase, adding 275 students, to an overall enrollment of 23,863.

Nearby Johnson County Community College also reported a slight increase of students, adding 164 students, or a 0.8 percent increase, taking its fall enrollment to 21,033 students.

By Andy Hyland

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