The University of Kentucky's freshman class is the largest, most diverse and most academically prepared group in the school's history, officials announced Tuesday.
"It's an exciting time at the University of Kentucky," said President Eli Capilouto. "This is a record-breaking year ... . Increasingly, Kentucky's best and brightest recognize we are providing a world-class education."
UK has long tried to improve the quality of its student body as befits a state flagship, but also because a larger class size means more tuition income for schools that have seen decreases in state funding. However, those numbers can also be balanced out by trying to lure "Kentucky's best and brightest" with the best financial package so they will stay in Kentucky rather than attending college out of state.
Spokesman Jay Blanton said UK had budgeted for a freshman class of roughly 4,500 students, which helped soften some budget cuts made this year. However, UK also added $10 million to the scholarship pool for a total of $68 million for all scholarships. That pool also has to grow when tuition goes up, as it has every year for a decade.
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Among the new numbers:
The freshman class of 4,645 grew by 500 students; there is now a total enrollment of 28,935 with 20,882 undergraduates, both record enrollments. There was also a record number of applications, at 18,802, up 24 percent. Of those students, 31 percent were from out of state.
There are 71 National Merit Finalists in the freshman class, up from 29 last year. The number of Singletary Scholars — those who receive a free ride for four years — went from 34 to 51 this year. The funding for the increase came from UK's Athletics Department, which now contributes $3 million a year to academic scholarships.
This year's class also features an Honors Program of 309 students, up from 226 last year, and more students — 427 compared to 394 — who were part of the Governor's Scholars program or the Governor's School for the Arts.
Officials also reported record diversity for UK, which has lagged the University of Louisville in attracting minority students. This year, there are 533 black students, a 26 percent increase; 166 Hispanic students, a 44 percent increase; and 110 international students, a 96 percent increase. Capilouto said the largest group represented is from China. Like many colleges nationally, UK is trying to take advantage of a prosperous and well-educated Chinese middle class, many of whom want to attend American universities and can pay full tuition.
During Tuesday's Board of Trustees meeting, Capilouto introduced five freshman, all Kentuckians who received full scholarships and perfect scores on their ACT tests: Samuel Potter of Pikeville; Todd Montgomery and Grant Boggess of Lexington; Logan Hurley of East Bernstadt; and Jacob Mattingly of Louisville.
"These young people demonstrate without question the potential of our state," Capilouto said. "There do not have to be any limits for Kentucky."
Trustees approved negotiations between UK and Shriners Hospitals for Children to build a facility on land near the UK medical complex. Under the deal, UK would offer Shriners a long-term ground lease, while Shriners would put up roughly $50 million for construction. Shriners would operate its outpatient surgery and rehab care in the building, while in-patient care would be provided at Kentucky Children's Hospital. Part of the building would be leased by UK for a new ophthalmology clinic.
Shriners officials have said the move was prompted by changes in pediatric orthopedic care at their Richmond Road hospital. Most of their care is now outpatient, which means many of their hospital rooms stay empty.
"It's a win-win for everybody," trustee James Stuckert said.