UNK enrollment increases in first-time freshmen, grad students

KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney recorded a 5.4% increase in first-time freshmen enrollment for fall 2023, bucking a national trend. In graduate student enrollment, UNK has a 1.2% increase.

The official enrollment data, reported at census (sixth day of the semester), shows a total enrollment of 6,017 – a slight decrease from 6,041 last year. First-time, full-time freshmen increased 6.1%, and first-time transfers increased one student over last year to 326.

The data indicates UNK students are taking more credit hours and are more likely to be full-time, with total student-credit-hour production increasing just under 1%. Full-time graduate students increased 11.7% over last year, with full-time undergraduates increasing 0.5% for a total increase in full-time students of 1.3%.

The largest undergraduate program of study among freshmen is health science, with nearly 23% of first-time freshmen (211) majoring in this area. That’s a 21% increase over last year, and reflects the growing success in undergraduate health science education at UNK. First-time freshmen increased 23% in the College of Business and Technology, including a 55% increase in industrial technology majors and a 10.3% increase in management majors. Total enrollment increased 5.7% in the College of Business and Technology.

Graduate students total 1,793, with the vast majority participating in online courses. Graduate enrollment increased 19.6% in on-campus students, and just under 1% in distance-only students. Graduate student numbers increased in speech-language pathology, by 31% (to 92), Master of Business Administration, by 22.7% (to 81), and educational administration, by 4.3% (to 145). Each of these programs recorded their highest enrollment ever.

Out-of-state and international student numbers remain strong, with 1,109 non-resident students. UNK students are from 46 states (none from Rhode Island, Hawaii, Vermont or Delaware), with non-resident students comprising 17.4% of the student population. The largest number of students from states outside Nebraska are Colorado (145), Kansas (111) and California (56). Students are from 62 countries – the largest number ever and an increase of 10 countries from last year. The countries with the highest numbers are Japan (112), Mexico (54), Nepal (19), China (17), South Korea (11) and India (10).

Students from 62 countries – the largest number ever – are attending UNK this fall. (UNK Communications)

Students are from 91 Nebraska counties, with UNK recording the most students ever this fall from both Hall County (378) and Lancaster County (371). Demographic data indicates increases in student diversity. The number of students who are Hispanic increased to 759 – the largest ever – up 3%. First-time freshmen students who are Hispanic numbered 131 – also the highest number ever, and a 10% increase over fall 2022. The number of Hispanic students has increased 46.8% since 2013. UNK’s Black or African-American students number 138, which is tied for the largest number ever, and an increase of 15% over last year. UNK enrolled 252 non-resident alien students, a decrease of 5%.

The National Clearinghouse Student Research Center reports that nationwide, undergraduate enrollment in public four-year institutions has decreased four out of the last five years, with the Midwest region recording greater losses, attributed to demographic and economic changes. Enrollment stability has become an important performance indicator for institutions of higher education, said Kelly Bartling, UNK vice chancellor of enrollment management.

“The increase in first-time freshmen and graduate students represents an all-campus effort on recruitment and retention,” Bartling said. A five-point plan to increase undergraduate enrollment includes increasing the number and size of scholarships, an emphasis on student success and completion, expertise in first-generation and Hispanic student recruitment and success, being transfer-friendly, and focusing on career and internship development.

“What connects all of these efforts is a student experience focused on wellness and belonging,” Bartling said. “UNK has realigned staff and services to support students’ mental health, their connection to other students as well as faculty and staff, and the experience that UNK promises: Top-quality academic programs with people who care in a supportive environment where students can thrive.”