Kentucky Undergraduate Enrollment Declined Even as Credentials Grew: A Trend To Watch – Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Kentucky Undergraduate Enrollment Declined Even as Credentials Grew: A Trend To Watch

Monday, we celebrated Kentucky’s important progress  in postsecondary attainment, as reported in the Council for Postsecondary Education’s 2020 Stronger By Degrees Progress Report, and Wednesday, we took a further look at undergraduate credentials being earned by students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, noting growth for nearly every student group from 2015 to 2019.

To continue our week of attention to excellence with equity in Kentucky higher education, I want to deepen the analysis, drawing from CPE’s excellent interactive data reporting and looking at changes happening earlier in the postsecondary pipeline.

From 2015 to 2019, Kentucky public undergraduate enrollment:

  • Declined overall
  • Increased for Asian students, Latino students, and students of two or more races
  • Declined for other student groups
  • Declined faster for African American students than for White students

At the bottom of the post, I’ve also shared separate versions of this chart showing the patterns for KCTCS and for public universities. KCTCS saw more rates of decline for most groups than the universities but also more rapid rates of increase for Asian and Latino enrollment.

My first thought is that these enrollment trends make it even more impressive to see that the number of students earning undergraduate credentials has risen over these years, as spotlighted in Wednesday’s post.

My second thought is that the trends still warrant concern. If enrollment continues to decline, that will surely make it harder to continue Kentucky’s recent progress on credentials earned and on reaching our big goal of 60% attainment by 2030.

As our commonwealth faces pandemic and recession, maintaining enrollment may prove even more challenging in the coming years. A major federal investment to encourage postsecondary education, like that made in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, could make enrollment more appealing, but I have not heard that scale of grant aid, tax incentives, and institutional support proposed yet. In these challenging times, we may need to redouble our current efforts to show Kentuckians the value of postsecondary education and find additional innovative strategies to expand undergraduate enrollment and retention.

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