A strong surge in freshman enrollment in the fall has the University of Missouri looking for space in private housing developments.
The Finance Committee of the Board of Curators on Thursday approved adding prices for that leased space to room options for the fall, a move expected to be ratified when the full board meets next week. MU is expecting between 500 and 700 more first-time freshmen to enroll, an increase of 11 to 15 percent, when classes begin in August, spokesman Christian Basi said.
“Things are looking so good in terms of enrollment that we are planning, and want to be ready, to use extended campus options like we have in the past,” Basi said.
The university had previously planned for about 5,000 students just out of high school to enroll and now expects between 5,200 and 5,400, Basi said. That is still more than 1,000 fewer than the record of 6,515 set in fall 2014 but it represents a significant rebound from the recent low of 4,134 in the fall of 2017.
The estimates are based on the number of applications that have been accepted and the students who have paid their deposits.
“We will know more after the first day or two of May and we will be releasing that information publicly at that point,” Basi said.
Overall enrollment, which this year is below 30,000 for the first time since 2007, is expected to decline again slightly as the large incoming freshman class of 2014 begins to graduate in the spring. There were 7,480 seniors enrolled last fall, according to MU Institutional Research data, and past enrollment trends indicate there will be about 6,500 in the fall.
“We are very excited about the numbers we are seeing and I think that this showcases a couple of things,” Basi said.
Enrollment crashed in the aftermath of campus protests in the fall of 2015 that drew national attention and a lot of negative publicity to the university. President Mun Choi and Chancellor Alexander Cartwright, who took over their posts in 2017, have worked to expand scholarships, lower overall costs and, with the help of a national marketing campaign, sought to rebuild campus numbers.
Average housing and dining costs were cut an additional 2 percent for the fall and many students are saving substantially on books by using open-source and online products, Basi said. Most students are paying less this year than they would have a year ago, Basi said.
“We strongly believe that students are realizing that Mizzou can assist them and help them meet their career goals,” Basi said. “Additionally, the chancellor and the president have been laser-focused on student affordability.”
The additional housing space is needed because the rebound in this year's freshman class, along with an increase in the number of students staying in dorms for their sophomore year, filled all on-campus housing. The drop in 2017 led to the university closing six residence halls and leasing one, Responsibility Hall, to MU Health Care for use as office space.
All six residence halls reopened last fall. The lease on Responsibility Hall has one more year, so it is not available for the additional students, Basi said.
The university has not signed contracts with any private housing companies for the new space, Basi said.
The finance committee also discussed the long-term financial health of the university, including plans for capital improvements and building maintenance needs.
The university must focus on increasing its revenue and controlling costs, Vice President Ryan Rapp told the committee. Public higher education needs to recognize that state support as a share of its total budget is declining and look to its own means of obtaining revenue, he said.
“We are really looking across the entire enterprise,” Rapp said.