TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) — State data shows fewer Kansas high school students are prepared for college today than in 2013.

On Wednesday, the Kansas Board of Regents reviewed college enrollment numbers and college readiness data.

Using ACT benchmarks to measure college readiness, Elaine Frisbie, vice president of finance and administration for the Board of Regents, said the scores for Kansas students have been worsening since 2013. 

Since 2019, Kansas high school juniors and seniors have been able to take the ACT for free. 

“We know that states that have implemented similar policies have seen the benchmark percentages decrease as more students take the test. We are seeing a similar trend,” Frisbie said. “As a state, Kansas falls below the nation in every subject area assessed by the ACT test.”

Frisbie said in overall benchmarks, Kansas students lagged behind the national average by 4 percentage points in 2021. Back in 2012, Kansas students scored above the national average by 4 percentage points. 

Board of Regents Chair Cheryl Harrison-Lee said more work needs to be done to determine how this data can be used to adjust high school curriculum. 

“What does this mean for the high school curriculum? Because even if we don’t use the ACT, even if we don’t measure it, if you (students) get there and you’re not ready is of great concern,” Harrison-Lee said. 

Frisbie said while many colleges and universities offer remedial coursework for students that are not meeting those standards, it can be difficult to track the amount of funds used for that type of academic support. State law prohibits state universities from using state funding to pay for remedial coursework. However two-year colleges can use state funds to support remedial coursework because it is considered a non-tiered class. 

“If we don’t figure out how to serve this new group of students, then we can expect Kansas enrollments to continue to decline in post-secondary ed[ucation],” Board of Regents President Blake Flanders said. 

Data provided to the board also compared the percentage of students meeting ACT benchmarks based on race, ethnicity and family income. Frisbie said at in every subject area there is a significant gap in test scores between students from families with higher income levels compared to those in lower income brackets. 

Regent Cynthia Lane said the data shows an urgent need for the board to meet with the state Graduation Requirements Task Force.

“The strategies we have in place with the higher ed[ucation] system I think have a lot of promise. We also have to look at our partners in the pipeline to help them put some more promising strategies in place,” Lane said.

The graduation task force is currently accepting comments from the public on potential changes for high school graduation requirements. The task force is expected to share a final proposal with the State Board of Education in May.  

Enrollment trends

The number of Kansas students going to college is also declining.

Since 2015, the number of Kansas high school graduates going to an in-state public university, college or community college within a year of graduation has dropped by nearly 10%.   

While the state population grew roughly 3% from 2010 to 2020, over the last decade, public colleges and universities in Kansas have seen a roughly 8.6% decrease in overall student enrollment (headcount) and a 12% decrease in full-time student enrollment (FTE). In the last year FTE has decreased by about 5% systemwide. 

Frisbie said enrollment at state colleges and universities have been affected by the pandemic. On average state universities have seen a 2% decrease in overall student enrollment in the last year and 2.9% decrease since 2011. FTE has dropped roughly 3% in the last year. 

“Over the past decade, community colleges have experienced the most significant enrollment losses,” Frisbie said. 

Frisbie said community college enrollment is partially influenced by the high number of part-time students in the workforce.

“It used to be when there was difficulty in the economy and a recession might hit, more students would come back to community colleges. That didn’t seem to play out as much initially and we are seeing some declines here in our community college enrollment,” Frisbie said.  

Community colleges have seen 8.5% drop in enrollment in the last year and roughly a 27% decrease since 2011. Full-time student enrollment has decreased approximately 7% in the last year. 

Despite a slight decrease in the last year, technical colleges have seen some of the largest increases in student enrollment over the last decade. From 2020 to 2021, student enrollment dropped nearly 10% and FTE dropped by nearly 13%. Since 2011, overall enrollment at technical colleges has increased more than 60%.