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Historic Enrollment, Retention Rates for UK

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August 28, 2020


By Jay Blanton Aug. 28, 2020

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 28, 2020) — The University of Kentucky has reached a historic level for enrollment and retention rates — an indication of the institution’s growing academic reputation and as a place where students succeed at high levels, according to preliminary figures released Friday.

This fall, UK has more than 31,000 students enrolled for the first time ever at 31,057, a nearly 2% increase over last year, preliminary figures show. Also, preliminary retention figures — the percentage of students who return for their second year — is at 86.4%, nearly 1.5 percentage points higher than last academic year and about 5 percentage points higher than in just Fall 2016.

“The numbers are an important indication of where we are as a first-choice academic institution,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “Students and families — even in a time of so much anxiety and uncertainty — are choosing the University of Kentucky because we place students and their success at the center of everything that we do. A college education will be even more important in the future, as our economy changes, requiring more skills and more nimbleness. That’s what an education at UK provides — the critical thinking capacity and toolkit of skills needed to succeed in a world where change is the only real constant.”

Preliminary figures will become final in October when UK passes its census date and reports figures to the state. Some highlights of the preliminary enrollment figures released Friday, following add/drop for Fall 2020 classes, include:

  • UK’s preliminary enrollment of 31,057 is up from 30,545 last year.
  • Retention rates have increased steadily for five years, a number that signals the movement of graduation rates, the most important indicator of student success. UK now is at an all-time high for six-year graduation rates, according to last year’s figure of 66.1%.
  • UK is more diverse than at any time in its more than 155-year history. About 2,100 (nearly 7%) of students are Black, up more than 7% from last year, according to preliminary figures. Hispanic or Latino students now comprise about 5% of the student body with about 1,600 students, up more than 10% over last year.
  • The first-year class for Fall 2020 is right at 5,000 students (4,961), nearly 500 more than what UK was projecting this summer as it prepared for potential economic shocks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That figure is down about 7% from last year’s record first-year enrollment, likely an indication of economic uncertainty and concerns, UK officials said.
  • The percentage of Black and Hispanic or Latino students in the first-year class increased slightly — 7.2% among Blacks for this year compared to 7.0% last year; 6.7% for Hispanic and Latino students compared to 6.5% last year.

While the enrollment numbers reflect the university’s growing academic reputation, they do not provide any substantive budget relief for the institution, officials said. UK has expended millions of dollars to ensure preparedness and safety in response to the global pandemic and to continue to ensure affordability and access.

For example, the University of Kentucky this fall capped tuition and mandatory fees for all full-time undergraduate students regardless of how many in-class or online classes a student is taking. UK officials estimate the change will cost the university about $5 million in lost tuition revenue.

“Given the uncertain environment in which we find ourselves, these numbers underscore the distinctive educational experience we provide for all our students — undergraduates seeking to find meaning and purpose and graduate students embarking on deep analysis and study in specific fields,” Capilouto said. “The numbers show our promise and potential for service. But we are not satisfied. We must continue to grow and position UK to thrive as we emerge from this crisis — stronger, more diverse and accepting and poised to provide the education our Commonwealth needs from us as the University of, for and with Kentucky.”

For more information, you can view these slides.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.