By Lori Dresner, Managing Editor/New Editor
Most of the University of Missouri-St. Louis community is aware that in recent months the university has faced enrollment challenges. Despite a record number of high school applicants and campus visitors in 2015-2016, freshmen enrollment is down 14.2 percent this semester from Fall 2015 and total undergraduate enrollment is down 6.6 percent from last fall.
As far as new student enrollment goes, three areas are up compared to Fall 2015: transfer students increased by 1.6 percent with 25 more students, new graduate students increased 4.8 percent with 35 more students, and new optometry students increased 7.1 percent with three more students.
Alan Byrd, Dean of Enrollment, explained that UMSL is among a majority of colleges in Missouri that are facing enrollment challenges. He said, “Right now there are no schools that are really growing unless they can attract a lot of out-of-state or international students because Missouri isn’t growing. By UMSL being really more of a commuter campus that focuses on local students, that presents major enrollment challenges.”
Freshmen enrollment was at 454 as of August 22, making it only the second time in 30 years that UMSL has enrolled less than 500 freshmen. In comparison, there were 529 freshmen in Fall 2015. According to Byrd, the target enrollment for freshmen for this fall was 550.
High schoolers provided five reasons for not attending UMSL. These included not being satisfied with the quality of social life at UMSL, UMSL not being their first choice, receiving better scholarships or financial packages at another institution, UMSL lacking the amenities or extracurricular activities they were seeking, and UMSL being too expensive.
“Some of those reasons we can address with just some short term things, but most of those issues are long term projects,” explained Byrd.
Another reason for this year’s enrollment decline was poor retention rates for upperclassmen, according to Byrd. This semester, there are 569 less undergraduate students, 26 less graduate students, and four less professional students, totaling a 5.2 percent decrease in total UMSL enrollment from Fall 2015. Approximately 500 seniors who were in good academic standing did not return to UMSL this fall. This, combined with the largest graduating class in UMSL’s history in 2016, contributed to the decline.
According to a list of UMSL’s strategic plan recruitment goals in Fall 2015, the university aimed to enroll 2,400 new undergraduates every fall and 950 every spring. For graduate and professional students, that goal was 800 new students each fall and 200 each spring. UMSL also hopes to increase total enrollment to 17,500 students by Fall 2018.
Declining enrollment at St. Louis Community College (STLCC) was one reason cited for UMSL’s enrollment decline in the Fall 2015 Enrollment Summary. According to the summary, STLCC is UMSL’s top feeder district for prospective students, and the four STLCC campuses produce one-third of UMSL’s transfer students on an annual basis. According to statistics in the summary, enrollment at all four campuses has been declining since Fall 2011. Total enrollment for the four campuses declined by 2,316 students from Fall 2014 to Fall 2015. Long term, STLCC enrollment declined by 10,328 from Fall 2011 to Fall 2015.
Another reason for UMSL’s enrollment decline, according to Byrd, has been the decrease in high school graduates. UMSL has also seen an increasing number of first-generation college students, as well as students with higher need for financial aid.
Byrd said, “That presents new challenges both for recruitment and retention. We’re really having to look at ourselves in the mirror and determine what kind of campus we want to be moving forward, to really accommodate the students that we want to attract and make sure that we put students in the best position to succeed.”
The Fall 2015 Enrollment Summary proposed five steps for how UMSL could enhance recruitment efforts. These included expanding UMSL’s marketing and recruitment efforts beyond the St. Louis Metro area, upgrading campus facilities and amenities to be on par with local competitors, increasing investments in merit scholarships and need-based financial aid, modifying degree programs to cater to working adults and 100 percent online students, and increasing course offerings and campus activities on Fridays and weekends.
Byrd said that UMSL has already begun broadening their recruitment scope. Traditionally, UMSL has only recruited from the St. Louis area and a few counties in Illinois. UMSL has now expanded recruitment efforts to include more of Illinois and, this past year, began recruitment to the Midwestern exchange states that are part of the Midwestern Student Exchange Program (MSEP). Students from these states receive discounted tuition and are not required to pay the out-of-state tuition fee.
According to Byrd, television marketing is another new strategy that UMSL will be implementing. In the past, UMSL has utilized print ads, billboards, and radio advertisements for marketing purposes, but will begin advertising on TV for the first time this year.