University of Pikeville’s student enrollment steadily increased in several areas over the past two years and it plans to continue that, according to university officials.
In 2019, the private university’s undergraduate enrollment totaled 1109 students, while 2018 and 2017 saw less than 1090 students each.
UPike’s first-year student population increased by 41 students in 2019, totaling 330 students. In 2018, 289 first-year students enrolled at the university, and 279 enrolled in 2017.
UPike President Burton Webb said the growth of the student population met this year’s expectations of university officials. He said they aim to steadily increase enrollment and capacity over time in order to provide adequate classroom and housing space for the university’s student population as it grows, which, he said, would not be possible with larger growth.
“What we’re trying to do is what I would describe as a very controlled growth process,” Webb said. “It’s easy to get big numbers really fast, but the thing that we’ve discovered is that they don’t retain at college very well. What we’re trying to do now is be very intentional. In the long term, it is much more sustainable than some of the colleges that see a much larger growth.”
This year, 549 students enrolled in the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine, an increase of 15 students since 2017. The Kentucky College of Optometry also saw an enrollment increase, with 237 students enrolled this year, close to full capacity, compared to 124 students in 2017, which was KYCO’s first year. UPike’s graduate student enrollment saw a decline from 119 students in 2017 to 68 students in 2019.
While UPike receives more students from Eastern Kentucky than other parts of the state, Webb said, the university’s recruitment efforts have broadened. More than half of those enrolled at UPike come from within Kentucky, and the rest come from across the country, he said.
UPike’s focus on recruiting students outside of Eastern Kentucky from surrounding states, as well as other areas of the state, is due to Eastern Kentucky’s high school graduate population declining within the past 10 years.
“We still look heavily in Eastern Kentucky,” Webb said. “About half of the students that enroll with us are from this region, but recently, we’ve started looking out and recruiting from West Virginia, Virginia and places like that.”
As UPike’s enrollment continues to grow, especially its first-year student population, Webb said, it is working to improve retention rates for first-year to sophomore students. Last year’s retention rate for freshmen who continued at UPike as sophomores was about 69 percent, and the retention rate for students who continue past sophomore year is more than 90 percent.
Although, Webb said, he is pleased with the first-year student retention rate, he hopes the university will increase it to about 80 percent, and he said that UPike is “working every day to get structures in place on campus” to support students.
“Our mission is to educate students in the mountains,” Webb said. “We’re not selective as a college. We try to take everybody on their own terms and help them to make their way through college. If you look at our college with the mission that we have, we’ve got a really good retention rate, and it has improved dramatically in the last four years. I couldn’t be happier about where we’re going.”
Webb said that he looked forward to the university’s future as its enrollment continues to increase over time.
“I think you’ve got to move with the momentum of the institution,” Webb said. “When you’re serving the needs of the region, I think it’s reasonable to expect to grow, and we’re going to continue to do that but in a measured way.”