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Stability in enrollment numbers

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

As we move into the heart of the Fall 2019 semester, we are preparing for the transition to the Provost’s new Priority-Centered Management (PCM) budget. This will be the first time that the performance of academic units within KU will be used to make budget adjustments in the coming year. The PCM model currently allocates 65% of a unit’s budget based on student credit hour production, 20% on the unit’s research productivity, 10% on student success, and 5% on other various strategic priorities. Within each of these four basic categories, there are several metrics that contribute to the overall calculation for the unit’s budget.

Many have expressed concern over the switch from an “incremental” budget (i.e., one determined by historical precedent) to a more performance-based model. However, coming from 12 years working within the research sector of KU, I am comfortable with this change. As a soft-funded researcher in the 1980s, my position was wholly dependent on my ability to generate salary through peer-reviewed grants. As director of the Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies (a role in which I continue to serve, along with the interim deanship of the College), I constantly operate knowing that the very existence of our center is tied to maintaining very high levels of research productivity. Finally, over the last two years as interim vice chancellor for research, I worked under a model in which fully half of our base operating budget was contingent on indirect costs (also known as “Finance and Administration” or “F&A” costs) generated by grants and contracts awarded to KU. In dynamic situations like these, it is necessary to monitor one’s current budget on a continuous basis, and (perhaps more importantly) attend to the fundamental metrics on which one’s performance ultimately will be evaluated.

In this context, we eagerly awaited the Fall 2019 20th-day enrollment totals for the College, which were released last week, and show the College as essentially flat from last year. The totals show 17,972 students in College courses, which is down 70 students from last fall, but up relative to all other years dating back to 2014. There is a very slight uptick in graduate students (881) from last year (867). The totals also show 172,710 credit hours, which is down 1,037 from last year. However, as a developmental scientist, I’m always more interested in a trajectory than a static snapshot; this fall’s numbers confirm that the decline in both students and credit hours from 2010 to 2015 has been arrested and stabilized over the last 3-4 years. Along with these results, it appears that College’s efforts in promoting student success are showing positive gains, with an all-time high in the percent of students retained from first to second year (84.0%), and the percent of students progressing to sophomore status (67.6%). The average high school GPA for freshmen enrolled in College courses for Fall 2019 is 3.57, which is holding steady from last year’s 3.59.

The changes we are seeing at KU are generally reflective of larger demographic trends in higher-education enrollment across the country; the College still accounts for the majority of students and credit hours at KU. I hope this information is helpful. As I think it important for us to all know how we are doing as we move forward, in future columns I hope to continue to focus on those metrics in the College that will be relevant to long-term plans for future growth.