Tuesday, September 14, 2010

College enrollment up

14 Sep 2010 — Messenger-Inquirer
By Dariush Shafa, Messenger-Inquirer

Statewide public and independent college and university enrollment hit a record level this fall, with more than 270,000 students enrolled at institutions around the commonwealth, and three local schools in Owensboro are reflecting that trend.

According to data released Monday by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, total fall enrollment around the state has increased by 4 percent compared to last year. This data is preliminary, as many colleges and universities depend on online course enrollments, which won't be available for another month or so, but administrators are still encouraged by the numbers so far.

Freshman enrollment at Brescia University was up 3 percent for undergraduate degree-seeking students, said Chris Houk, vice president for enrollment management. Total numbers for admissions won't be known until October when online registration course data becomes available, he said.

At WKU-Owensboro, Director Gene Tice said freshman enrollment is up 15 percent. Graduate student enrollment is down some, Tice said, but the full result won't be known for them until online course numbers come in also.

Owensboro Community and Technical College also had a 5 percent enrollment increase, said President Jim Klauber. That number will also change depending on online courses.

The lone decrease in Owensboro was at Kentucky Wesleyan College, with an overall enrollment decrease of 8 percent and a freshman enrollment decrease of 9 percent. However, President Cheryl King said that number is tempered by retention numbers.

Paula Dehn, vice president of academic affairs and dean of the college, said freshman retention increased by 3 percent compared to last year.

'We anticipated that enrollment would be lower this year and one factor for that is we had the largest graduating class last spring that we've had in 40 years,' King said.

Houk said Brescia's administrators are pleased with the numbers so far, with this year's freshman class of 117 being the second highest since 1990, just behind last year's 127. The economy seems to be the cause, Houk said.

'It's the fourth year in a row that our undergraduate-degree-seeking population has increased,' Houk said. 'During downturns in the economy, typically college enrollment increases.'

Klauber explained why this is a natural reaction to the economy.

'Community and technical colleges work inverse to the economy as a whole. During good times, people feel secure in their jobs and don't see the need to go back for additional training, certificates or a career change,' Klauber said. 'When the economy gets bad, people with jobs want to improve themselves to keep jobs and people who get laid off come back to get that skill or additional training to get a new job.'

Also helping WKU-O is the new facility the campus has and the partnership with OCTC to transition students more easily.

'I think that's a reflection of the new building and more students from OCTC transferring to our campus,' Tice said. 'We've been saying for some time we're expecting a lot of our future growth at WKU to be from regional campuses.'

Tice said it's not just good for WKU, but also for the state.

'I think this is great for the commonwealth,' Tice said. 'That will help economic growth for the entire state.'

Klauber said the next step is not just to grow admissions, but to make sure these students complete and achieve their goals and help out their communities and the state.

'We've got to focus on student success. While enrollment increases are great and good news, more important for me personally is student success, retention and completion,' Klauber said. 'It's good for us, it's great for the student and it helps the commonwealth of Kentucky as we try to provide a better-trained work force.'