Enrollment in Kentucky's public and independent colleges and universities hit an all-time high this fall with 271,352 enrolled students, according to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.
Total fall enrollment increased by 3.8 percent over last year and 40.1 percent since 2000, according to a preliminary fall enrollment report released Sunday at a meeting of the council.
"These students have chosen acollege education because they see the value that it can bring to their lives, in terms of employability, higher personal wages and personal satisfaction," said Bob King, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education. "A more educated Kentucky is a key in spurring the commonwealth's economic recovery."
Kentucky's public colleges and universities increased enrollment by 3.6 percent over last year, to 231,878, and its private, non-profit institutions increased enrollment by 4.6 percent, to 33,624.
The state's "proprietary" colleges — privately owned schools that operate for profit, such as Sullivan University — expanded by 10.5 percent, to 5,850, primarily on the strength of business and pharmacy programs.
The Kentucky Community and Technical College System saw the sharpest growth among public institutions during the past year and the past decade. Enrollment at KCTCS increased 6.1 percent during the past year, to 106,500. Its enrollment jumped 79.2 percent during the past decade.
The University of Kentucky led the state's universities during the past year with an enrollment increase of 2.9 percent, bringing total enrollment to 27,951. UK's freshman class stands at 4,326, up from 4,153 in 2009. Morehead State University was the only public university that experienced a decline in enrollment from last year; the number of students dropped by 0.5 percent, to 9,004.
During a 10-year period, Western Kentucky University increased its student population the most among universities, jumping 34.4 percent, to 20,855. The University of Louisville showed the least amount of growth, increasing enrollment by 6.9 percent, to 22,200, during the decade.
Among independent colleges, Pikeville College saw a large leap this year in its undergraduate enrollment — from 705 last year to 1,025.
State and private universities have seen similar jumps in enrollment across the country as students seek to avoid a harsh employment climate or upgrade their skills for jobs that are seen as having more potential when the economy rebounds.
"I think it's a combination, really," said John Hayek, the council's senior vice president for finance, planning and performance. "We've seen this many times as the economy turns down ... but I also view it as a kind of an encouragement of Kentuckians valuing education, and I think it's going to position Kentucky very well as the economy rebounds."