The Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) released preliminary census-day figures Oct. 1, the report detailed a systemwide decrease in full-time equivalency (FTE) student enrollment at public higher education institutions in Kansas. Their five-year data reflected a trend that cannot be ignored.
FTE vs. Headcount
There are two basic ways to count the number of students enrolled in school, FTE and Headcount. FTE only factors in students with full-time status, Headcount accounts for all, including students in part-time status.
Not only did Kansas’ state universities share a total decrease of 6.4% FTE students, community colleges had a decreased enrollment of 18.6% FTE, and Washburn’s FTE enrollment decreased by 11.3%.
However, technical colleges increased FTE enrollment by 10.7%.
When headcount is accounted, the total enrollment for Kansas’ state universities and community colleges was also down. State universities headcount enrollment decreased by 3.2%; community colleges had a major drop of 19.9%; Washburn’s headcount also decreased by 12.1%.
Interestingly, technical college enrollment rose 21.4%.
COVID-19, This Years’ Culprit
According to KBOR President and CEO Blake Flanders, “COVID has introduced a unique set of hurdles for higher education that has negatively impacted fall enrollment as expected. However, the pandemic has also converged with longer-term challenges facing enrollment, including a steady decline in the college going rate of Kansas high school graduates.”
While coronavirus may be the biggest factor affecting higher education for this year, KBOR will need to find a way to redirect the current, downward trend in education.
The pandemic has created challenges for recruiting prospective students, and some institutions faced particular difficulties in enrolling international students for the fall semester. In addition, the delayed start for many Kansas high schools likely contributed to a decrease in the number of high school students enrolled in concurrent courses at the time of the 20th day census.
Flanders, remains confident that the trend will take a different course soon, “The Board is focused on advocating for the institutions as they weather the impact of coronavirus and on addressing longer-term issues to ensure that Kansans can build rewarding careers and Kansas businesses have access to the skilled workforce they need.”
Statements from Kansas’ Top Three Universities – K-State, KU, WSU
K-State is beginning the second year of a strategic enrollment management effort designed to increase its overall enrollment to boost net tuition revenue. Improving the educational experience and making scholarships more accessible remain top priorities for the university as a land-grant institution.
Chuck Taber, provost and executive vice president said, "We've completely revamped our scholarship programs and are finding new ways to increase the value of our already excellent degrees. Higher education has been proven to be one of the best investments a person can make — with demonstrably proven increased lifetime earnings and quality of life. The prosperity of our state and country depends on a well-educated populace."
With the later start date for public schools this year, WSU also had a decrease in the number high school students who are eligible to enroll concurrently in college credit courses before the census date. WSU will continue to admit and enroll these students for concurrent credit.
“Given all the complications with COVID-19, we continue to see strong cohorts of students in certain segments of our student population, including out-of-state students from along the I-35 corridor and first-time-in-college students,” said Dr. Rick Muma, acting president and provost of Wichita State. “Wichita State continues to be a powerful presence in our community, bringing economic diversification, innovation and affordable educational opportunities to Shocker Nation.”
KU data showed that one-year retention rate for last year’s freshman class is 85.7 percent; it’s the second-highest rate in KU history. The two-year retention rate for the 2018 freshmen is an all-time high 77.1 percent.
“Given the historic challenges the pandemic has presented students and families, we are pleased to have experienced such a relatively modest decline in our enrollment,” Chancellor Douglas Girod said. “To have limited the decline to just 2.8 percent speaks volumes of the great work our faculty and staff have done to create a flexible, dynamic educational experience that meets the needs of our students during such an uncertain time.”