College enrollment shifts across Missouri

Truman State University began seeing lower enrollment a couple of years ago. Truman is about to report its third year of decreased enrollment while other colleges around Missouri have broadcasted their enrollment numbers are going up. 

Dave Rector, vice president for administration, finance and planning, said the headcount will be around 5,400 or 5,450 students, but all enrollment numbers are preliminary until results of the University census come out. 

“[The] freshman class is going to be smaller … I am guessing around 925,” Rector said. “Last year we had 1,100 freshmen, and our headcount last year was about 5,550 [students]. That’s the combination of two small freshman classes in a row and the seniors being a large graduating class.” 

Rector said he attributes the low enrollment to a combination of factors: fewer people graduating high school, a job market that people are skipping college to go into and negative publicity about student debt. 

Community colleges are being hit especially hard by these factors, Rector said. In some cases, their enrollment might be down 20%. 

Truman’s number of transfer students is also down because of the lower enrollment in community colleges, Rector said. 

Missouri State University in Springfield’s overall enrollment is down about 3% and their freshman class is down, Rector said. At Southeast Missouri State University, the freshman class is going to be down for the second year in a row and their total enrollment will also be down, as well as the enrollment at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph, Rector said.

A written press release from Northwest Missouri State University said the University began its 2019-20 school year with a 2% increase in its total enrollment, in addition to maintaining a high retention rate. The press release said the University’s retention rate is the second-highest in the institution’s history after Northwest secured a record 78% retention rate last fall.

The press release said there was a total headcount of 6,841 students on the first day of class and Northwest’s freshman headcount is 1,349, which also represents a 2% increase from last fall. 

However, the press release also said all enrollment numbers are preliminary until Northwest’s official census occurs Sept. 18. The University projects its total enrollment for the fall to exceed 7,000 as students continue to enroll and those enrolled in high school dual-credit programs are also counted.

Northwest attributes its enrollment growth to the work of its cross-disciplinary recruiting team, communication with prospective students, and partnerships with marketing and online education vendors to provide services and support aimed at increasing enrollment, the press release said.

Rector said the University of Missouri-Columbia may be broadcasting that their freshman enrollment is up, but they are still below where they have been historically.

Chuck May, executive director of admissions at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said in an email statement to The Index that on the first day of class, there were 5,459 freshmen on campus and based on preliminary numbers, their freshman class increased by more than 16% compared to last year, marking the second year in a row the university has experienced double-digit percentage freshman enrollment growth. 

May said total enrollment at Mizzou increased approximately 1% this semester, with a total of 30,073 students on campus. New scholarship opportunities and reductions in the cost of dining plans and housing plans are just some of the reasons May attributes to the rise in freshmen. 

“Another school that is up this fall is Saint Louis University, and — from what I have been able to pick up through the grapevine — they enhanced their scholarship program quite a bit,” Rector said.   

Rector said he thinks college recruitment is a very competitive market. Truman President Sue Thomas said during her back to school welcome that we all need to be thinking about recruiting, Rector said. 

For Truman to become more competitive with other colleges, Rector said the University is rolling out a new, less-dated marketing campaign.  

“[Lower enrollment] hurts the tuition revenue,” Rector said. “This year the state gave us an extra million dollars. With our decline in enrollment we are going to have less tuition revenue. I don’t think, from a student perspective, you will really notice anything … it is not like we are cutting back budgets … so I don’t think the students are really going to feel it in any way.” 

Tyana Lange, vice president for enrollment management and marketing, said the lower enrollment due to lower demographics and higher competition is not only a Missouri problem, but a national issue. 

Lange said the University is definitely doing a lot to change the enrollment trends for next year. 

“We hired a new director of admissions, Tara Heart,” Lange said. “We are looking at opportunities for additional training looking at things a little differently from the ambassador point of view, finding ways to tell our Truman story.” 

The University as a whole has been involved in a rebranding campaign, Lange said.  The new branding will include a new logo, tagline and message that will include a fresh look and feel to help Truman tell its story in a very consistent way, Lange said.  

“I want us to get to a point where we are really selling that experience upfront and not just value,” Lange said. “For [so] long we have talked about value and how affordable [Truman] is that we have kind of done ourselves a disservice and not really talked about how amazing we are. So that’s really where I want to focus on, that kind of a message.” 

Lange said that in many cases some of the institutions whose enrollment decline started before Truman’s decline increased their marketing, increased their financial aid packages and started being more competitive. 

“I am actually really excited — this is an exciting time for Truman — while we are coming off two years and a third year of decline,” Lange said. “We’ve done some of those reflections internally to really determine who we are as a university, the fact that we are about to launch a new marketing campaign, the fact that we have a new director of admissions. I am really excited and optimistic that we are going to be on the trend upward at this point and … I hope others on campus are excited about it too.”