Campus News

Historic Enrollment, Retention Rates for UK

students standing on campus
Pete Comparoni | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 28, 2020) — The University of Kentucky has reached a historic level for enrollment and retention rates — an indication of the institution’s growing academic reputation and as a place where students succeed at high levels, according to preliminary figures released Friday.

This fall, UK has more than 31,000 students enrolled for the first time ever at 31,057, a nearly 2% increase over last year, preliminary figures show. Also, preliminary retention figures — the percentage of students who return for their second year — is at 86.4%, nearly 1.5 percentage points higher than last academic year and about 5 percentage points higher than in just Fall 2016.

“The numbers are an important indication of where we are as a first-choice academic institution,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “Students and families — even in a time of so much anxiety and uncertainty — are choosing the University of Kentucky because we place students and their success at the center of everything that we do. A college education will be even more important in the future, as our economy changes, requiring more skills and more nimbleness. That’s what an education at UK provides — the critical thinking capacity and toolkit of skills needed to succeed in a world where change is the only real constant.”

Preliminary figures will become final in October when UK passes its census date and reports figures to the state. Some highlights of the preliminary enrollment figures released Friday, following add/drop for Fall 2020 classes, include:

  • UK’s preliminary enrollment of 31,057 is up from 30,545 last year.
  • Retention rates have increased steadily for five years, a number that signals the movement of graduation rates, the most important indicator of student success. UK now is at an all-time high for six-year graduation rates, according to last year’s figure of 66.1%.
  • UK is more diverse than at any time in its more than 155-year history. About 2,100 (nearly 7%) of students are Black, up more than 7% from last year, according to preliminary figures. Hispanic or Latino students now comprise about 5% of the student body with about 1,600 students, up more than 10% over last year.
  • The first-year class for Fall 2020 is right at 5,000 students (4,961), nearly 500 more than what UK was projecting this summer as it prepared for potential economic shocks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That figure is down about 7% from last year’s record first-year enrollment, likely an indication of economic uncertainty and concerns, UK officials said.
  • The percentage of Black and Hispanic or Latino students in the first-year class increased slightly — 7.2% among Blacks for this year compared to 7.0% last year; 6.7% for Hispanic and Latino students compared to 6.5% last year.

While the enrollment numbers reflect the university’s growing academic reputation, they do not provide any substantive budget relief for the institution, officials said. UK has expended millions of dollars to ensure preparedness and safety in response to the global pandemic and to continue to ensure affordability and access.

For example, the University of Kentucky this fall capped tuition and mandatory fees for all full-time undergraduate students regardless of how many in-class or online classes a student is taking. UK officials estimate the change will cost the university about $5 million in lost tuition revenue.

“Given the uncertain environment in which we find ourselves, these numbers underscore the distinctive educational experience we provide for all our students — undergraduates seeking to find meaning and purpose and graduate students embarking on deep analysis and study in specific fields,” Capilouto said. “The numbers show our promise and potential for service. But we are not satisfied. We must continue to grow and position UK to thrive as we emerge from this crisis — stronger, more diverse and accepting and poised to provide the education our Commonwealth needs from us as the University of, for and with Kentucky.”

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As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.