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Amid Declining Enrollment, Kentucky Colleges and Universities Boost Degrees Awarded

Lisa Autry

A report from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education shows the state is on pace to meet a 2030 goal of having 60% of the adult population with a college degree.   The student pipeline, however, will need some retro-fitting in the future.

In order to meet the 60x30 goal, colleges and universities as a whole, must have degree growth of 1.7% every year. 

A report released this week from the CPE shows during the past two academic years, the state saw increases of four and nearly three percent, respectively, but that progress can’t be sustained if dependent on high school graduates alone. 

Currently, only 53.3% of high school graduates are going on to postsecondary education, and it’s anticipated that pipeline will decline in the coming years.

CPE President Aaron Thompson says schools will need to boost enrollment of adults, either who have never attended college or those who earned some credits but didn’t complete their degrees.

“We’re gonna also have to get more folks coming in from out of state to get a postsecondary credential that stays in Kentucky," Thompson said in an interview with WKU Public Radio.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, college enrollment has fallen nationwide by more than 16% since 2011.  Despite flat to declining enrollment in the commonwealth over the past five years, the number of credentials earned at Kentucky’s public universities and community colleges has increased.

A report from the state Council on Postsecondary Education shows credential production among schools increased 11.4% from 2013 to 2018. 

CPE President Aaron Thompson says he attributes the increase to campuses providing more services aimed at retaining and graduating students.

"During budget cuts, these are some of the areas we cut out first, but what we know is that if you focus on students, then you have a greater chance of helping them get through and be successful," stated Thompson.

Minority and low-income students saw even bigger gains over that five-year period. Degree production rose 23% among under-represented students.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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