UPDATE: MU applications way up for fall 2018

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Recruitment activities at high school events and college fairs, as well as programs designed to inspire high school students to pursue higher education, contributed to a hike in 2018 freshman applications across the University of Missouri System, UM leaders said Friday.

Freshman applications to attend MU are up by about 17 percent over this time last year, according to information presented Friday to the UM System Board of Curators. At a news conference afterward, UM System President Mun Choi said he expects MU to enroll 5,000 new students for the fall "if yields hold."

Over the past three years, MU has seen a steep drop in freshman enrollment: 6,211 freshmen enrolled at MU in 2015, a number that fell to 4,799 in 2016 and about 4,100 in 2017.

On Friday, Choi told curators the number of freshman applications to MU were 17,583, up from 15,060 at this time last year.

The number of transfer applicants to MU were up by about 12 percent — up to 904 from 806 last year at this time.

Application numbers were up across the system, Choi said. His presentation showed:

A roughly 35 percent increase at UMSL, 2,899, up from 2,152 last year.About a 27 percent increase at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, 6,438, up from 5,086.About a 13 percent increase at Missouri S&T in Rolla, 3,942, up from 3,488.

"These numbers demonstrate that Missourians and out-of-state students recognize that they can receive exceptional and affordable educations while becoming career-ready," Choi said in a news release released during the presentation. "Our strong applications come at a time when there are fewer high school graduates throughout most of the country and increased competition among higher education institutions."

Transfer application numbers were also up at three of the four campuses — the largest at UMKC, 998, up from 845 last year.

These announcements come a day after UM Chief Financial Officer Ryan Rapp announced that all of MU’s residence halls will be in use for fall 2018 with the exception of Responsibility Hall, which is leased by MU Health Care. That information came out earlier in the week with the news that MU will no longer rent out vacant dorm rooms for football weekends and other events.

With the increase in applications, Choi expects MU to fill all residence halls left vacant this year. He said the increased interest in attending MU will contribute to this goal, and the lower dining and residence hall options, announced in November, will attract returning students.

On Thursday, curators approved the housing and dining rates for fiscal year 2019. MU will see a 3.5 percent decrease in the costs of room and board compared to the 2017-2018 school year.

Over the past year, MU has increased its use of enrollment activities to attract more potential students. These include personal outreach, attending high school events and college fairs and recruiting out-of-state students.

MU visited more than 600 Missouri high schools and more than 450 college fairs nationwide, according to the news release; added off-campus events such as "Scholars Night" in St. Louis and Kansas City; introduced the Common App application service and personally contacted admitted students.

"We called on our team to re-examine how we do things and think outside the box," Pelema Morrice, vice provost for enrollment management and strategic development, said in the release. "I am proud of these efforts and encouraged by these early numbers. Mizzou has momentum, and we plan to keep that energy going."

During the news conference, Choi pointed to The Bridge Program, which gives high school students from underrepresented groups an idea of what it's like to live and study at UMSL, and Project Lead the Way, which works with Missouri S&T to train teachers primarily in rural areas "so they can inspire students to pursue STEM degrees."

Also Friday, Choi and the curators discussed potential tuition raises in light of Gov. Eric Greitens’ proposed $43 million cut to the UM System, as well as changes to the tuition cap they would like to see should Senate Bill 912 pass, which would allow public universities to increase tuition by 10 percent above the rate of inflation as defined by the consumer price index.

Asked if he had spoken with Greitens or his staff about the impact of budget cuts on the system, Choi said yes.

"As members of COFHE (the Consortium on Financing Higher Education), we have frequent conversations with Commissioner (of Higher Education Zora) Mulligan and members of the governor's staff, and we talk about the value of higher education as well as the need to become more efficient and to ensure that those efficiencies are used to support what is important at our university," Choi said. "The key one is student success — so yes, those conversations have been happening."

During his presentation to curators, Choi said that to make up $40 million in cuts through tuition alone, they would have to increase the rate by 17 or 18 percent. Throughout Friday, Choi and the curators generally expressed a strong desire to raise the tuition cap.

"We need to communicate to the public and to the press that tuition is a very complicated jigsaw puzzle," curator David Steelman said. "We don’t have the revenue that we need to keep the best and the brightest here, and to educate our under-served public. You can tell that I think the tuition cap is a draconian mechanism that prevents us from being all that we can be."

Curator Darryl Chatman stood out throughout the day as hesitant to jump to tuition increases as a source of revenue.

"We’ve talked a lot about raising tuition or at least having that as an option. We haven’t said that’s what we’re immediately going to do," Chatman said at the news conference after the board meeting. "I want to emphasize other ways to increase revenue without putting that burden on our students. Mun shares that concern, and the board shares that concern."

The next scheduled meeting of the full board will be in April.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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