KU flag stands atop a building

Student enrollment at the University of Kansas declined by 2.8%, Chancellor Douglas Girod said Thursday.

The University of Kansas enrollment dropped by 2.8% for the 2020-2021 academic year, which administrators consider a “modest enrollment decline,” said Chancellor Douglas Girod in a message to students, staff and faculty on Thursday. 

The enrollment data was released in coordination with the Kansas Board of Regents. Overall, full-time student enrollment at six state universities declined by 3.6%, which totaled to a drop of 4,737 students, according to the enrollment data provided by KBOR

Back in May, Girod projected enrollment would decline by roughly 8% to 10% — and that wasn’t even the worst case scenario, he told members of KBOR

“Given the hardships the pandemic has presented students and families  and the uncertainty it has created in the higher education market  we are pleased to have experienced such a modest enrollment decline,” Girod said in a statement. 

The enrollment data allows KU leaders to revise its projected financial outlook. Girod previously stated KU would potentially lose $120 million in the current fiscal year — nearly 26% of the institution’s operating budget.

“While we likely will be able to revise that projection down due to our better-than-expected enrollment, the current fiscal year challenge remains substantial,” Girod said. 

KU administrators will release the projected numbers for the budget shortfall later.

The institution’s leaders are still preparing for costly cuts ahead, and actions like furloughs, layoffs and salary cuts are being considered. KU is also aiming to adapt new business models and streamline some of its programs. Girod previously said the institution will consider sweeping vacant positions and utilizing budget reserves. 

The fiscal deficit from the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to follow KU for years, Girod said. First-year enrollment decreased by about 7.2%. 

“When freshmen enrollment falls, that isn’t a one-year tuition hit; rather, we lose tuition we would have received for multiple years,” Girod said. 

International student enrollment makes up for more than half of the enrollment drop. KU had an approximate 18.1% decrease in international students, according to the enrollment data. 

International students traditionally pay more than non-residents to attend KU. Girod said the decline in international student enrollment disproportionately impacts tuition revenue. 

Other public universities in the state also are facing enrollment declines. Kansas State University enrollment went down by about 5.1%, according to enrollment data released by KBOR. Wichita State University enrollment declined by 3.1%. 

“COVID has introduced a unique set of hurdles for higher education that has negatively impacted fall enrollment as expected,” said KBOR President and CEO Blake Flanders in a statement Thursday. “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.”