Estimated enrollment causes re-evaluation of 12×12 goal

Ed Marlowe
Staff writer

Undergraduate enrollment either flatlined or decrease across most of the state for the 2010-11 fiscal year, according to estimates released by the Council on Postsecondary Education.

The numbers, released Sept. 22, showed only three universities – Kentucky, Morehead State and Murray State – with notable increases in undergraduate enrollment over the last year.

While the University of Kentucky (1 percent) and Murray State (2 percent) showed minimal gains in enrollment, Morehead State showcased a state-leading 18 percent increase in undergraduate enrollment.

The small increase has President Randy Dunn re-evaluating the previously set 12×12 goal – an initiative to reach 12,000 students by 2012.

With roughly 10,500 students enrolled as either undergraduate or graduate, Murray State would need a 14.28 percent increase in overall enrollment to meet that goal.

If the CPE estimates were to trend into 2012, Dunn said his enrollment goal would be difficult to reach and has altered the goal to 11×12.

“While I think it becomes a very tough road to make it to 12,000 students in one more year, we’ll be at 11,000 and then we take a pause to see what we might be able to do to push forward,” Dunn said. “We have some ideas around this, to maybe go to 11,500, 11,600 and 11,700, which is basically our full number at this point.”

Although the initial goal may be out of reach, Dunn said initiatives and changes made to recruiting and enrollment strategies several years ago has put Murray State in a better place than it would have been.

“If we had not taken on the changes to our enrollment function a little over three years ago I don’t think we would be where we are now,” Dunn said. “In fact, I think we’d probably be dropping well under 10,000.”

Dunn said Murray State’s overall goal is to focus on the quality of student life and what the University has to offer future students.

“We use everything within our arsenal, but I’ve always been one who believes quality sells,” Dunn said. “Individuals are drawn to quality so we talk about the excellence we’ve been able to achieve and the quality indicators that exist for an institution with our type of profile, and that has to be first and foremost.”

While Murray State continues with a slow and steady increase, enrollment numbers generated by Morehead State were notable.

Morehead State University President Wayne D. Andrews confirmed in a Sept. 22 press release that Morehead State had broken its previous record of 9,509 students in 2003 with 10,235 enrolled for the 2011 fall semester.

Andrews said Morehead’s undergraduate recruitment success is directly linked to its Early College Program, a dual-enrollment program designed to streamline the transition from high school to college.

According to the press release, 2011 enrollment numbers include the nearly 1,600 students from 31 surrounding high schools taking part in the Early College Program.

Andrews, who confirmed record enrollment in the ECP for the 2011 fall semester, said the program is an excellent way to bridge the gap between high school and college at a comfortable pace for the student.

“The Early College Program is an incredible opportunity for high school students to be better prepared as they enter postsecondary education as full-time university students,” Andrews said. “The program not only allows them to get a jump-start on courses reducing their time to degree but also increases affordability. It is possible for a student to complete as many as 24 lower-division college credit hours prior to graduating from high school and do it at no cost to the student.”

Dunn said Murray State includes its dual-enrollment program, Racer Academy, in preliminary estimates of undergraduate enrollment, but the effect on the numbers is smaller than that of Morehead State’s, who just started focusing more on those bridge programs.

“Something that gave them a spike in the numbers is they started to figure out how to do dual-enrollment courses with their regional high schools and have gotten into that in a really big way, which is something they hadn’t done at all in the past,” Dunn said. “We’ve been doing that with our Racer Academy and have had great success with it and will continue that.”

While dual-enrollment programs are not new to Morehead State, Andrews said that the program recently was enhanced and expanded due to the passing of Senate Bill 1 in 2009.

“The goal of SB 1 is to strengthen the college-going rate of Kentucky high school graduates and to better align the curriculum from elementary to high school with postsecondary education,” Andrews said. “This will help ensure that all students in Kentucky are working toward a common curriculum and are successful at each level.”

Sue Patrick, director of communication for the CPE, said she was not concerned with tapering numbers in the Council’s findings, citing that a lack of funding was not the cause for decreased enrollment.

“Institutional aid is at an all-time high, and has increased sharply as tuition has increased,” Patrick said.

Patrick said state financial aid, both need- and merit-based, supported an initial enrollment growth in Kentucky institutions and that leveling numbers were to be expected.

“We experienced a tremendous amount of enrollment and degree production over the past decade,” Patrick said. “Part of it was fueled by the recession of 2008, which sent more adults returning to college to re-tool, advance in their careers or prepare for a new one. This leveling off is not a surprise.”

The CPE will release official enrollment numbers on Oct. 25.

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