Board searches for cause of drop in enrollment

By Dylan Lysen

TOPEKA — While the academic profile of K-State students has improved in recent years, the university’s enrollment is declining, said Pat Bosco, K-State’s vice president for student life.

Bosco spoke to the Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday as part of a panel addressing the system’s admission standards and enrollment struggles universities are facing.

To qualify at most of the state’s higher education institutions, including K-State, prospective students must finish high school with a 2.0 GPA or better and either graduate in the top third of their senior class, score a 21 or higher on the ACT or a 980 on the SAT.

Since the university updated its admission standards in recent years, the university has seen an increase in average ACT scores of incoming freshmen, increase in average freshmen grade-point average, an increased freshmen- to-sophomore retention rate and growth of diversity enrollment.

“We’re very pleased what has happened at our school with qualified admissions,” Bosco said.

But not everything is great, he said. Enrollment at Kansas higher education institutions, including community colleges and trade schools, has steadily fallen since 2012, Bosco said. In 2016 about 3,000 fewer students statewide were enrolled compared to 2012.

At the same time the number of high school seniors in the state has increased, meaning the percentage of students pursuing higher education has fallen.

“I don’t know if that’s (caused by) qualified admissions, the cost of higher ed and cost of attendance, or if it’s a challenge we have in high school curriculums,” he said. “As a student of the game, I’m concerned with our participation rates.”

Prior to the discussion, Zoe Newton, Regents chair, said the board was creating a task force to examine what the universities can do to attract more students. Bosco said he is willing to serve on the task force to help address the issue. “I’ve been hearing since I’ve been on this board that we don’t have enough people who are enrolling,” Newton said. “There are pockets of opportunity that we just aren’t getting.” She said the system should do more to attract first-generation students, non-native students and students from poor households.

“We need to go to these communities and find out what will work for them,” she said. Regent Helen Van Etten asked the panel if a stronger economy could be a factor, with more students taking jobs right out of high school rather than going to college.

Matt Melvin, KU’s vice provost for enrollment management, who also spoke on the panel, said the decrease in student enrollment could be cultural.

“It’s shocking how many (prospective students) don’t think about themselves as college-going (people),” he said. “It’s a cultural thing for students. How then do we change that college-going culture so there’s an aspiration?”

Although the discussion was focusing on Kansas high school graduates, Regent Dennis Mullin asked about possible enrollment decreases of international students. Bosco said K-State has seen a 300-student drop in international student enrollment since 2015.

“As we visit with our international population, they say very candidly we have some policies in place and a culture and climate change that affect international student enrollment, not only in our state, but throughout America,” Bosco said.

Joey Linn, Fort Hays State’s vice president for student affairs, said the university’s on-campus international student population has fallen as well. He said the university is working with its international educational partners to address the gap. Fort Hays State has several online class offerings that may be able to help.

“We’re trying,” he said. “We’re looking for partnerships that are a win-win for Fort Hays State University.”

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