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Freshman enrollment at Kentucky universities remains steady; students want campus experience


Preliminary estimates from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education show that freshman enrollment at public universities has remained largely steady this semester despite COVID-19 and the struggling economy.

The initial estimates, released on Tuesday, indicate that 18,373 freshmen enrolled at public, four-year institutions in fall 2020, down only 44 students – or 0.2 percent – from the previous year. Overall, four out of eight public universities in Kentucky experienced an increase in freshman enrollment.

Figures also show that total enrollment for credential-seeking undergraduate students has stayed mostly flat at public, four-year universities, dropping only 0.4 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, enrollment of underrepresented minority students at those institutions climbed 1 percent, and graduate enrollment rose 6.4 percent.

Aaron Thompson

The numbers are a welcome development for Kentucky campuses, which were bracing for larger declines this semester – especially among freshmen – as coursework moved online and many campus activities were either downsized or halted altogether.

“Colleges have pushed hard to adapt quickly and still provide a rich environment for students,” said CPE President Aaron Thompson. “The numbers today are a testament to their efforts – and to the resilience and determination of our student body. Higher education matters most in times like these, and I’m gratified that demand remains strong among our incoming class.”

CPE officials released the preliminary estimates at its Council meeting Tuesday. Final enrollment counts will be available in the coming weeks.

In addition to data at public universities, the figures reveal that first-year undergraduate enrollment at private institutions in the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU) also tracks closely with last year. Graduate enrollment slightly declined by approximately 1.6 percent.

Like most community college systems across the nation, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System experienced larger declines.

David Mahan, associate vice president of data, research and advanced analytics at CPE, cautioned that enrollment estimates are often complicated and nuanced. But taken in total, he said the trends are positive news.

“Today’s numbers show a highly-motivated freshman class that is eager to get on campus and begin work toward a degree,” Mahan said. “We still have some challenges ahead, but campuses are doing a great job with recruitment and keeping students engaged at a difficult time.”

In other action, the Council approved four new academic programs, including:

• Northern Kentucky University – Bachelor of Science in applied software engineering and a Doctorate of Occupational Therapy

• University of Kentucky – Doctorate in health services research

• Murray State University – Education Specialist in agriculture education

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The Council also:

• Adopted a resolution honoring Jay Box, who is retiring this month after serving as president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College since 2014.

• Swore in three new members, including Eric Farris, Kevin Weaver and Colby Birkes. Franklin County Judge-Executive Huston Wells administered the oath of office.

• Received a report from Moody’s Investors Service concerning the financial outlook for Kentucky’s postsecondary education market.

• Reviewed a recent CPE report called “Dual Credit & Student Success: The Effect of High School Dual Credit on Educational Outcomes at Kentucky Public Universities.” This report measured the impact of dual credit on student success at the state’s public, four-year universities.

• Reviewed an announcement from the Kentucky Board of Education, reporting that Jason Glass, superintendent and chief learner for Jeffco Public Schools in the metro Denver area, will serve as Kentucky’s new commissioner of education.

• Revised the policy for new academic program approvals.

• Received comments from Thompson and reports from the Council’s finance and executive committees. The Council also received “good news” reports from multiple campuses.

From Council on Postsecondary Education


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