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Freshman Enrollment Steady at Ky. Universities; Two New NKU Programs Approved

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, enrollment at Kentucky's eight public universities has remained steady when compared to last year.

Preliminary enrollment estimates were discussed last week by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.

The initial estimates, released on Tuesday, indicate that 18,373 freshmen enrolled at public, four-year institutions in fall 2020, down only 44 students – or 0.2% – from the previous year. Overall, four out of eight public universities in Kentucky experienced an increase in freshman enrollment.

Figures also show that total enrollment for credential-seeking undergraduate students has stayed mostly flat at public, four-year universities, dropping only 0.4% from the previous year. Meanwhile, enrollment of underrepresented minority students at those institutions climbed 1%, and graduate enrollment rose 6.4%.

The numbers are a welcome development for Kentucky campuses, which were bracing for larger declines this semester – especially among freshmen – as coursework moved online and many campus activities were either downsized or halted altogether.

“Colleges have pushed hard to adapt quickly and still provide a rich environment for students,” said CPE President Aaron Thompson. “The numbers today are a testament to their efforts – and to the resilience and determination of our student body. Higher education matters most in times like these, and I’m gratified that demand remains strong among our incoming class.”

Final enrollment counts will be available in the coming weeks.

In addition to data at public universities, the figures reveal that first-year undergraduate enrollment at private institutions in the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU) also tracks closely with last year. Graduate enrollment slightly declined by approximately 1.6%.

Like most community college systems across the nation, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System experienced larger declines.

David Mahan, associate vice president of data, research and advanced analytics at CPE, cautioned that enrollment estimates are often complicated and nuanced. But taken in total, he said the trends are positive news.

“Today’s numbers show a highly-motivated freshman class that is eager to get on campus and begin work toward a degree,” Mahan said. “We still have some challenges ahead, but campuses are doing a great job with recruitment and keeping students engaged at a difficult time.”

In other action, CPE approved two new academic programs at Northern Kentucky University: a bachelor of science degree in applied software engineering and a doctorate of occupational therapy.

-Staff report

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