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Kentucky State University (State Journal file photo)

Jerald Smith, a Kentucky State University psychology major, recently finished his first year at the university. That wasn't something he originally thought he would be able to do when he was a high school student in Louisville. 

Smith is one of 276 first-time freshmen who started at KSU last fall — launching what university officials hope will be an upward trend in enrollment that will help meet goals set by the state. 

"It was my only decision," Smith said.

According to enrollment data found in the university's management plan, 145 fewer students enrolled at the university in Fall 2018 than in Fall 2017. However, on the university's state report card, KSU was given an A for meeting 91 percent of its enrollment goal, which would be about 1,957 students.

The largest change was in the number of graduate students, which went from 169 to 114, an almost 33% decrease from Fall 2017 to Fall 2018.

Clara Stamps, senior vice president of KSU's Division of Brand Identity and University Relations, said enrollment figures from Fall 2017 and Fall 2018  include dual credit students, or high school students who are taking college courses. In Fall 2017, KSU had 402 dual credit students among 1,757 undergraduate students; in Fall 2018, dual credit enrollment was 424 among 1,666 undergraduate students.

 KSU Enrollment Data
  Fall 2017 Spring 2018  Fall 2018 Spring 2019 
Undergraduate 1,355 1,174 1,242  1,129
Graduate 169 139 115 108
Dual Enrollment 402 1,095 424 942 
Total 1,926 2,408 1,781  2,179

At a March 7 Board of Regents meeting, Executive Vice President and CFO of Finance and Administration Douglas Allen said spring enrollment for 2019 had increased 22.6% from the fall for a total of 2,183 students and decreased 9.3% from Spring 2018. Allen said the 2019 figure is made up of 108 graduate students and 2,071 undergraduate students, including 942 dual credit students. He said many other universities typically include dual credit students in enrollment totals.

Frankfort Independent Schools began working with KSU to offer dual credit courses last spring, so the past academic year was the first full year of the program, said Jessica Harley, Frankfort High School counselor. 

Harley said FHS had about 150 students sign up for dual credit courses with KSU. The program included 15 classes that covered core subjects like history and math as well as courses in nutrition, child development, art and music. Harley said a KSU professor came to the high school three days a week while a high school teacher offered support services for the other two class days. She said the setup led to collaboration between professors and high school teachers. 

Franklin County Schools also has students enrolled in dual credit courses with KSU, said Dr. Jim Masters, the district's director of high schools. FCS and KSU have had a partnership for at least the six years he has worked for the district. 

Last school year, FCS had more than 100 high school students enrolled in 126 KSU dual credit courses, Masters said. Those courses covered topics like biology, math, physics and Spanish. 

Overall enrollment increased at Kentucky State from Fall 2015 to Fall 2017, according to the management plan. The management plan says that most students were from Kentucky from Fall 2015 to Fall 2018. Other states represented in KSU's student body include Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana.

KSU President M. Christopher Brown II, who assumed the position in 2017, said the university's goal for Fall 2019 enrollment is 2,100, but it will not have a prediction on what fall enrollment will be until around Aug. 1. At Thursday's Board of Regents meeting, he said the university was on track to meet its goal.

The goal is set by the state. Brown said many factors affect the number, such as the state's pension crisis and changes in tuition. Colleges and universities across the commonwealth are facing a decline in enrollment, Brown said.

"I'm excited... In two years, we've seen stabilization in the institution," Brown said.

KSU has also changed some of the ways that it recruits students. Brown said the university entered a contract a few months ago with Sextant Marketing, which helps the university target more students. The university's Board of Regents voted to increase the contract during its March 7 meeting.

According to a copy of the contract obtained by The State Journal through an open records request, the contract is worth a total of $755,600 and has an initial term of three years. It can be renewed for four one-year terms after that.

Brown said the university has seen some return on its investment in the contract already and added that Sextant employees are "valuable partners." Sextant has helped KSU track households with high school and college-aged students that visit the university's website, which increases the university's direct marketing to those households. The company has also helped the university determine whether students have completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, or enrollment and smoothed out the university's transcript delivery.

The university also announced Thursday that it is reducing out-of-state students' tuition effective this fall. The Board of Regents approved a memorandum of agreement with the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education to lower tuition for students in the seven states surrounding Kentucky as well as Michigan from $9,500 a semester to $5,775. Current students who have the Thorobred Promise, or a four-year tuition guarantee, will have their tuition reduced to lower levels. 

"This tuition reduction enables Kentucky State University to be a more competitive option for students and parents seeking a quality education at an affordable price," Brown said via a press release. 

He added that when recruiting students, the university focuses on 11 area counties, including Franklin, to recruit students. Then, KSU markets statewide and in nearby states. He said areas with strong KSU alumni bases, like Chicago and Detroit, provide students who make up significant portions of the university's student body.

According to the management plan, the top 10 counties where KSU students are from are Anderson, Fayette, Franklin, Henry, Jefferson, Jessamine, Knott, Owen, Scott and Shelby counties. The five states providing the most students are Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana. 

Rising sophomore Smith said he chose KSU for several reasons, including that it was close to home and KSU is a historically black institution. Looking back on the past year, Smith said that he had to adjust to college life and his academic schedule. He spends most of his time in class or in his dorm room studying. If he had stayed in Louisville, he said he would not have that same focus.

Smith said that he would recommend the university to anyone. While KSU has historically black college and university (HBCU) status, Smith said anyone of any background or skin color can benefit from KSU. He said that his peers are diverse and call many places around the world home. Smith said that he predicts KSU will continue to grow and benefit students in the future.

"This school is growing. Each year, I feel like it gets better and better because this school is growing every day," he said.

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