Report shows Kentucky college graduation rates have increased despite decreased enrollment

Back view of graduates during commencement.

College graduation rates have increased in Kentucky despite a decrease in undergraduate enrollment, according to a Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) report released this week detailing the performance of public higher education in Kentucky for the 2020-2021 school year.

According to the 2022 Progress Report, graduation rates across Kentucky’s public universities have increased by 1.8 percent, with a graduation rate increase of 4.3 percent graduation for underrepresented minority students. Graduation rates in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System have increased by 4.1 percent.

When measuring graduation rates, CPE factors in the percentage of first-time, full-time students entering in the fall semester who graduate with an associate degree or credential within three years of entry or a bachelor’s degree within six years of entry.

When announcing the report, CPE placed emphasis on Kentucky’s progress to close equity gaps, as the report showed improvements for underrepresented minority students outperformed overall progress.

Below are key highlights from the 2022 Progress Report, showing that since 2015-16:

  • Enrollment of URM students increased by 14.1%, while overall enrollment decreased by 6.9%.
  • Total degrees and credentials awarded to URM students were up 41.3%, compared to a 17.8% increase overall.
  • The 6-year graduation rate for URM students was up 9.5 percentage points, compared to a 7.6 percentage-point increase overall.
  • In other improvements, graduate degrees awarded increased 7.1%, and state higher education funding per full-time student increased 10.6% over last year, the largest single year increase in several decades.
  • Public campuses faced several declines as they dealt with financial, demographic and public health challenges brought on by COVID-19, economic instability and a declining young adult population.
  • Nationally, total postsecondary enrollment (undergraduate and graduate) decreased about 3% from 2020 to 2021; Kentucky fared better with a 2% decline.
  • Undergraduate enrollment was down 5.8% at public universities and 10.5% at KCTCS from the previous year, while enrollment of URM students at public universities increased slightly.
  • The percentage of Kentucky high school graduates enrolling directly in college fell from 58.1% to 53.8%. The total percentage of high school graduates enrolling in college in state is 47.9%.
  • First-year to second-year retention rates fell 3.8 percentage points at public universities and 1.6 points at KCTCS.
  • After several consecutive years of increases, undergraduate credentials awarded in 2020-21 were down 3.9% at public universities, while KCTCS increased the number of credentials awarded by 0.4%.

The CPE progress report is categorized into the following areas: college affordability; transitions to postsecondary education; student success; talent development; increasing higher education’s value proposition; and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“This report provides a snapshot of progress on our college and universities’ performance targets toward the state goal for 60% of working-age Kentuckians to have a postsecondary credential by the year 2030,” said CPE President Aaron Thompson. “Increasing the education and skill levels of our workforce is a prerequisite to overcoming systemic poverty, low rates of workforce participation and persistent inequities along racial, ethnic and gender lines.”

Click here to view the report

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