Enrollment at Kansas universities and colleges fell by 8.1% this fall, the Kansas Board of Regents announced Thursday afternoon.


With continued uncertainty over COVID-19, most presidents and heads of the state’s universities and colleges had previously said they expected enrollment to decrease this semester.


Regents president and CEO Blake Flanders said schools have had to navigate "a unique set of hurdles" — like challenges in recruiting new freshman and international students as well as retaining existing students — that have resulted in enrollment declines.


"However, the pandemic has also converged with longer-term challenges facing enrollment, including a steady decline in the college going rate of Kansas high school graduates," Flanders said. "The Board is focused on advocating for the institutions as they weather the impact of coronavirus and on addressing longer-term issues to ensure that Kansans can build rewarding careers and Kansas businesses have access to the skilled workforce they need."


The Regents measure enrollment both by student headcount and by full-time enrollment equivalency, which is calculated by dividing the total number of undergraduate credit hours by 15 and the total number of graduate credit hours by 12.


Headcount enrollment, or the total number of individual students taking classes at a Regents institution, fell by 14,596 students, or 8.1%, this fall.


However, the full-time equivalency is a more accurate indicator of a university’s financial health, since it generally shows changes in an institution’s tuition revenue.


At the six four-year universities, full-time equivalent enrollment decreased by 2,677 students, or 3.6%, compared to a decrease of 4,737 full-time equivalent students, or 11.7%, at the community colleges. Technical colleges saw a drop of 518 full-time equivalent students, or 8.7%.


At the University of Kansas, the state’s flagship institution, full-time equivalent enrollment fell by 804 students, or 2.8%, to 27,619 students across all campuses. Chancellor Douglas Girod said university officials are keeping a close eye on international student enrollment, which the university said accounted for more than half of this year’s decline.


"Given the historic challenges the pandemic has presented students and families, we are pleased to have experienced such a relatively modest decline in our enrollment," Girod said.


Kansas State University, the state’s second-largest university, reported a decline of 901 students, or 4.9%, between the university and the K-State College of Veterinary Medicine, which reports data separately from the university.


Karen Goos, vice provost for enrollment management at K-State, said the declines were much lower than the university had expected, which she attributed to new and existing scholarship programs that have helped recruit and retain students.


As a municipal university, Washburn University is managed separately from the Kansas Regents and reports its own set of enrollment numbers. Enrollment at Washburn dropped 316 students, or 6.7%, to 4,394 students this fall.


Like other two-year institutions, Washburn Institute of Technology saw more significant declines, with enrollment dropping by 24.4%, or 300 students, to 932 students this fall.


Education leaders at the two-year institutions said they had expected to see a greater effect from the pandemic, as their students tend to have greater barriers to education that were intensified by COVID-19.


In a statement, the Regents said they would continue to monitor the effects of the enrollment downturns at each institution.