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New CPE report shows public colleges & universities making gains in enrollment & retention

Kentucky’s public colleges and universities made significant gains in undergraduate enrollment and retention, according to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education’s latest progress report. Enrollment at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) climbed 6.5% from fall 2022 to fall 2023, from 73,956 to 78,771 students. Undergraduate enrollment at public universities was up 1.6% over the same period, from 93,926 to 95,472 students.


Retention rates measure how many first-year students are still enrolled in college the following year. For the first time, the average statewide retention rate surpassed 80% at public universities (80.7%) and 60% at KCTCS (60.8%).

“Our postsecondary institutions have worked hard to return to pre-pandemic enrollment and retention levels,” said Aaron Thompson, CPE president. “The supports we’ve put in place are helping more students persist to degree or credential completion, which strengthens our workforce and economy.”

Recent increases in Kentucky’s educational attainment rate are a clear sign that postsecondary education gains are creating a more highly skilled workforce. In 2022, 55.1% of Kentuckians ages 25-64 had a postsecondary credential or degree, up from 54.3% the previous year. The statewide goal is to reach 60% by the year 2030, which Kentucky is on track to achieve.

Other positive outcomes for the 2022-23 academic year include:

--A 13.3% increase in credentials awarded to underrepresented minority (URM) students at KCTCS, and a 6.9% increase in bachelor’s degrees awarded to URM students at public universities.

--A 7.8% increase in graduate degrees awarded by public universities, and an 11.1% increase in graduate degrees awarded to URM students.

--A 4.8% increase in credentials awarded by KCTCS. (However, bachelor’s degrees awarded by public universities were down 1.9%.)

--A 3.4% decrease in the average amount of unmet financial need for undergraduate university students (from $9,691 in 2022 to $9,359 in 2023). This figure reflects the average, annual amount owed by university undergraduates after savings, scholarships and loans have been applied.

Of concern to higher education practitioners is Kentucky’s immediate college-going rate, which poses a challenge to postsecondary recruitment. In 2022, 53.3% of Kentucky’s high school graduates went directly to college, up from 51.5% the previous year, but significantly below the national average.

“CPE is attacking Kentucky’s low college-going rate in a number of ways – from increasing dual credit opportunities to providing more support to high school guidance counselors through the Kentucky Advising Academy,” said Amanda Ellis, CPE’s vice president for student access and success. “We’re hopeful that these cumulative efforts will continue to reverse this trend.”

Another concerning trend is declining enrollment among low-income students. Over the past five years, undergraduate enrollment among Pell-eligible students has fallen 15.1% at public universities and 20.8% at KCTCS. CPE and its partner institutions are taking steps to improve college affordability and raise awareness of strategies students and families can use to manage college costs.


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