COVID-19 pandemic undercuts enrollment by 8.1% at Kansas universities, colleges

Community colleges endure 14.1% loss; technical colleges down 9.4%

By: - October 1, 2020 1:45 pm
Kansas State University president Richard Myers, left, with University of Kansas chancellor Doug Girod. Myers said he would retire as KSU president at the end of 2021. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas State University president Richard Myers, left, with University of Kansas chancellor Doug Girod. Myers said he would retire as KSU president at the end of 2021. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Enrollment at the 32 public universities and colleges under supervision of the Kansas Board of Regents collapsed by 8.1% in the fall semester as the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted educational plans of thousands of students.

The systemwide headcount dwindled to 165,251, down nearly 15,000 students from last fall. Overall enrollment in Kansas’ public higher education system had eroded during the three previous years, but that pre-coronavirus trend amounted to the loss of 3,800 students.

In the new report on fall 2020 enrollment, the University of Kansas, Kansas State University and the four other state universities enrolled 3.5% fewer students than a year ago. Washburn University, a municipal institution in Topeka, was hammered by a 10% reduction.

The 19 community colleges collectively lost 14.1% of their students. Only one — Cowley Community College — added students to register a 0.5% increase. At the six technical colleges in Kansas, all suffered enrollment declines for a total 9.4% reduction.

Blake Flanders, president and chief executive officer of the Board of Regents, said COVID-19’s influence on fall enrollment was anticipated.

“COVID has introduced a unique set of hurdles for higher education,” Flanders said. “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.”

He said the Board of Regents would continue to press for deliver opportunities for Kansans to build rewarding careers and to provide Kansas businesses access to a skilled workforce.

KU chancellor Doug Girod said an 804-student reduction in enrollment at the university was driven by a 7.2% decline in first-time freshmen and 18.1% drop among international students. Given hardships the pandemic presented students and families, Girod said, the overall loss of 2.7% at KU could have been worse.

The pandemic created a projected $120 million deficit in the current fiscal year at KU that will necessitate “painful cost-savings measures in the months ahead,” the chancellor said.

“KU will need to adopt new business models, reorganize and restructure and implement cost reductions. All options — including furloughs, layoffs and salary reductions — must be considered for us to manage through this,” Girod said.

Here are fall semester losses among universities in the state system: Washburn, down 6.4%; Fort Hays State, down 5.5%; Kansas State, down 4.1%; Pittsburg State, down 3.7%; Wichita State, down 3.2%; KU, down 2.7%; and Emporia State, down 0.8%.

Karen Goos, vice provost for enrollment management at Kansas State, said decline of 865 students from one year ago mirroried state and national trends related to COVID-19. Kansas State’s decline of more than 3,000 students since 2015 led to initiation of a more aggressive recruiting program.

“Our 4% drop is much lower than expected and we know the next year will bring strong opportunities for growth when our new Missouri tuition match program providing in-state tuition to qualified Missouri students takes effect in fall 2021,” Goos said.

Heather Morgan, executive director of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, said the sharp decline experienced by the community college system was a direct consequence of the spread of COVID-19.

“Kansas community colleges typically serve students who face greater barriers to higher education, which were magnified by the pandemic,” she said in a statement on behalf of the community colleges.

Here are the community colleges with double-digit enrollment downturns this fall semester: Johnson County, down 24.1%; Coffeyville, down 21.5%; Fort Scott, down 17.4%; Barton, down 14.9%; Kansas City, down 14.2%; Seward County, down 14%; Labette, down 13.3%; Allen, down 12.2%; Cloud County, down 11.9%; and Butler, 10.5%.

At the technical colleges, Flint Hills reported a 19.3% enrollment drop for the fall semester. That compared to declines of 12% at the Manhattan and 11.9% at the Salina campuses of those technical schools. Washburn Institute of Technology suffered a 25.2% enrollment reduction.





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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.