Over the last several years Eastern Kentucky University’s enrollment has steadily decreased. According to the Office of Institutional Research, from 2016-2021 EKU went from 16,881 to 13,953 students. COVID-19 has certainly contributed to enrollment numbers over the last two years.
Tanlee Wasson, senior vice president for Student Success, Engagement & Opportunity said in an email statement that, “whether we are in a pandemic or not we would like to see growth no matter what. We understand the pathway education creates for the people of our service region and the Commonwealth. The more students we can educate and send back to serve their communities, the stronger we are as a region and state.”
Wasson said that outside of enrollment, EKU values the opportunities education provides. These opportunities include the individual growth students experience during their time at EKU, as well as the opportunity to fully support students in their journey, on campus or online.
“We remain committed to our roots as a residential community and will continue to focus on improving the student experience through wrap-around support services and initiatives like the Exceptional Eastern Experience,” Wasson said.
Wasson said in addition to overall growth, EKU has seen an increase of students from service regions and underrepresented populations. The majority of EKU students are low income and /or first-generation students. EKU has demonstrated its commitment to students by creating programs like BookSmart and expanding scholarships.
Wasson believes that many factors have played into the decrease of student enrollment in the last five years.
“Prior to the pandemic, the strong economy created more work opportunities that did not require an advanced education. In recent years, there has also been a negative public and political discourse that has called into question the value of higher education, which has led to fewer people making the choice to earn their post-secondary degree,” Wasson said. “Finally, EKU serves some of the most economically disadvantaged counties in the country. Students from these backgrounds are very sensitive to changes in the cost of education. As state level support has declined, all Kentucky institutions have implemented tuition and fee increases. Although EKU has held tuition flat three out of the last five years, minimal increases have been necessary as operational costs continue to rise.”
To increase enrollment going forward EKU plans to remain focused on increasing access and affordability for students. The BookSmart program will continue, as well as a merit scholarship model that does not require test scores.
Wasson said, “We have increased and enhanced opportunities for students to visit and fall in love with the ‘Campus Beautiful’ by offering twilight tours, Saturday visits, Spanish speaking tours and larger recruitment events that are integrated with the E3 student experience.”
EKU will continue hosting virtual recruitment events to reach more out-of-state students. They will continue to leverage their flat rate model to attract out-of-state students, specifically for some of the unique academic programs such as aviation and occupational therapy.
EKU recently implemented a new data management system that allows for more effective communication with students, their families and high school personnel. Leveraging this software to its full potential will enhance the incoming student experience and lead to more students seamlessly enrolling at EKU, according to Wasson.
EKU continues to expand their online programs through eCampus. Many of their programs are nationally recognized for academic quality and professional outcomes for graduates.
EKU is committed to the education of both traditional and non-traditional students, including those already in the workforce and those preparing to enter the workforce for the first time. EKU recently created the Office of Corporate Educational Partnerships to work with industry leaders and adult learners from their corporate partners as they navigate the college experience.
As part of the EKU Advantage, EKU has recently signed deals with several corporate and nonprofit partners including the Kentucky Association of Counties, the Kentucky League of Cities and Hyster-Yale. For more information and a list of partners, visit corporate.eku.edu.
Going forward, the EKU administration hopes programs such as BookSmart, expanding opportunities on scholarships, the new data management system, increased opportunities for students to visit and the recently created Office of Corporate Educational Partnerships will help boost enrollment in the future.