Higher ed enrollment inches up, but down over 5 years

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The state’s higher education system saw enrollment in student headcount inch up slightly this year while seeing a multiyear slide in enrollment continue.

New numbers from the state Board of Regents showed that part of the system – namely community colleges and technical schools – are reporting year-over-year increases in headcount while the state universities are struggling to get into the black.

The headcount for the state’s entire higher education system was up 1% in 2021, but down 8.6% over the last five years.

It was an improvement from 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state and overall enrollment headcount across the system dropped 8.1% from the year before.

Cheryl Harrison-Lee

The headcount at the state’s 19 community colleges jumped 4.5% this year over 2020, while the enrollment at the state’s technical schools was up 7.6%.

Meanwhile, the overall headcount at the state’s eight universities, including the University of Kansas Medical Center and the Kansas State University veterinary school, was down 1.7% this year.

“The preliminary fall enrollment report brings mixed results and continues a systemwide trend in declining enrollment over the past five years,” said Cheryl Harrison-Lee, chair of the Kansas Board of Regents.

“We must reverse that trend to meet the workforce needs of our state,” Harrison-Lee said in a statement.

“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.”

Over the long haul, five-year headcounts are down 4.8% at the state universities and 16.4% for community colleges. They were up 23% for technical colleges.

For individual state universities, the headcount for 2021 was flat from last year at the University of Kansas and down 3.1% at Kansas State.

It declined 6.2% at Fort Hays State, 6% at Pittsburg State and 3.7% at Emporia State, state data show. Wichita State recorded an increase of 3.5%.

The biggest five-year declines in the headcount percentage have been at Pittsburg State and Kansas State, each with a 15.3% drop since 2016.

Wichita State is up 11.2% since 2016.

Community colleges seeing the largest percentage increases in headcount from 2020 were Johnson County (19.8%), Dodge City (18.7%) and Independence (12.9%).

Schools losing enrollment year over year were Barton Community College (9.8%), Kansas City Kansas Community College (5.1%), and Neosho Community College (4.7%).

The biggest five-year declines in headcount among community colleges were Barton Community College (34.3%), Butler Community College (25.1%) and Coffeyville Community College (24.8%).