The University of Kentucky's fall freshman class is the largest, most diverse and highest achieving in UK's history, breaking several records from the year before, UK President Eli Capilouto said Tuesday.
UK's overall enrollment exceeded 29,000 for the first time, with 4,702 freshman and 21,523 undergraduates.
UK has 555 black freshman, up from 533 last year, and the number of freshman Hispanic students has grown to 200.
Capilouto said nine freshman got perfect scores on their ACT or SAT tests, and the school accepted 59 Singletary Scholars, the students who receive a full ride based on their academic performance. The UK Honors Program has grown from 250 to 400 students.
Graduate and professional level students have declined slightly, Capilouto said, but UK's selectivity has improved.
"The University of Kentucky is a place with incredible momentum, reflected in this first year class, marked by historic levels of quality and diversity, ... at a time when we're undergoing an exciting transformation," Capilouto said.
UK is in the midst of a building boom, including almost $500 million in new residence halls and construction or renovation of several academic buildings.
UK has increased out-of-state enrollment, which now makes up 30 percent of all students. Those students pay higher tuition rates, which has boosted the university's budget.
Capilouto displayed a map to the UK Board of Trustees that showed the hometowns of UK's in-state students, revealing heavy concentrations in Lexington and Louisville but much less density in Eastern Kentucky. He said he wanted to study those numbers more closely to find out what percentages of eligible high school students were coming to UK.
"We first serve the commonwealth," Capilouto said.
He noted that UK still has plenty of challenges to overcome. Although student retention rates from the first to second years improved slightly between 2011 and 2012 — from 81.3 percent to 82.5 percent — the rates still fall off dramatically between the first and third years.
The most recent six-year graduation rate available is 57.6 percent for the class that entered in 2006. That percentage slipped below the 2005 rate of 59 percent and is just below the national average of 58 percent.
In other news on Tuesday, UK trustees approved several upgrades for aging buildings in the College of Fine Arts.
They agreed to spend an extra $7 million to renovate the University Lofts on Bolivar Street, bringing the project's cost to $15 million. That building was bought in 2011 for $6.7 million in order to get students out of the Reynolds Building, a dilapidated tobacco warehouse that houses the School of Art and Visual Studies.
Officials said complicated engineering work had ballooned the project's cost, but that it remains the best solution.
"Upon detailed design we were simply not able to utilize as much of the existing building systems as we had desired and still meet occupancy requirements," said Bob Wiseman, UK vice president for facilities. "It was critical that we get our art students and faculty out of the old Reynolds Building and into a safe, modern facility."
The board also approved several other smaller renovation projects, including:
■ $4.5 million to upgrade the Fine Arts Building on Rose Street, including HVAC and electrical work. The building was constructed in the 1940s.
■ $1.7 million to renovate rehearsal rooms, teaching studios, the music library and office space at the School of Music's Schmidt Vocal Arts Center.
■ Nearly $1 million to renovate Garrigus Plaza, which is part of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment complex on Limestone.
■ A $3 million renovation to the recently acquired Lexington Theological Seminary so that the UK Early Childhood Lab can relocate there. That project will be started with a $1 million internal loan, which the College of Education will repay.
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Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford