WKU expects freshman enrollment to drop, while UK and Murray see an increase

Lily Burris

While two other Kentucky state universities have seen an increase in enrollment among first-year students, WKU is expected to trend in the opposite direction.

When planning for the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, WKU planned for a decline in enrollment of at least 690 students, according to the agenda of the Board of Regents Special Budget Approval Meeting.

WKU is expected to see a decline in first-year students. The university has been actively responding to the issue with intiatives like the new first-year scholarship requirements.

While WKU is dealing with a decline in the student population, other universities in Kentucky are not. Murray State University and the University of Kentucky have seen increases in enrollment for this academic year, especially with first-year students.

Murray State faced a steady decrease in their enrollment from Fall 2016 to Fall 2018, according to the Murray State Fall First-Time Freshman Enrollment Trends document. The freshman class at Murray State totals 1,420 students, according to a press release from Murray State. The university also saw an increase in transfer and graduate students.

“We are extremely pleased by these 2019-20 enrollment numbers in several key categories,” Murray State President Bob Jackson said in a press release. “More and more students are finding that Murray State University is an exciting place to be for high-quality academics, a vibrant campus life and is recognized as one of the best college values in America.”

According to an article from the Murray State News, Jackson attributed the increase to new recruitment efforts and scholarships. He said retention numbers are up at Murray State.

UK announced a record first-year class in a Sept. 16 press release. The class of 5,396 includes 319 more students than the previous year. The preliminary numbers from UK show an increase in diversity and more students from Kentucky.

“We are the University for Kentucky,” UK President Eli Capilouto said in a press release. “We demonstrate that through our research, service and health care. But we also demonstrate that commitment by educating more students, preparing them for lives of meaning and purpose and supporting and challenging them to dream boldly and achieve greatly — in Kentucky and in the world beyond our state’s borders.”

Jay Blanton, a spokesperson for UK, said the school’s plan is to have strategic growth in the coming years with a focus on diversity and acceptance for all people.

“Our general strategy has been, and will continue to be, to have our doors open widest to Kentuckians and the state we serve,” Blanton said. “We also had a record number of Kentuckians in this first-year class as well as important increases in diversity. We have, in recent years, had roughly a third of our first-year class come from other states. Our enrollment includes students from all 120 counties of Kentucky, all 50 states, and more than 100 countries.”

Blanton also mentioned the importance of academic quality while focusing on graduation and retention rates. UK’s goal is to have a retention rate of 90% and a graduation rate of 70%. Currently, UK has about an 85% retention rate and about a 66% graduation rate. Blantion said that progress is being made on these goals in part through the UK LEADS program.

WKU faced a total enrollment decrease from 2012 to 2015. From 2015 to 2016, there was a slight increase in total enrollment, but the decrease in enrollment has restarted since 2016, according to the Fall 2018 Enrollment Report Quick Facts.

News reporter Lily Burris can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @lily_burris.