High enrollment numbers could trouble faculty in the future

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 | 9:05 p.m. CDT; updated 3:57 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — The more students there are, the more faculty is necessary. That could be a problem at MU if record enrollment trends continue.

On Monday, MU closed admissions for incoming freshmen. Preliminary figures show more than 5,860 freshmen have paid the initial enrollment deposit for the Fall semester. Last year’s official freshman enrollment, determined on the 20th day of classes, was 4,982.

“There is a critical point where you have reached the maximum number of students you can offer a quality education to with the resources you have,” MU News Bureau Associate Director Christian Basi said. “We realized we were at that point.”

Basi said the university is “in really good shape” in regard to classroom space, housing, available faculty and other aspects of providing educational services to students, but any more students could compromise that quality.

MU Faculty Council Chairman Frank Schmidt said there should be enough faculty to accommodate the increase in students, but there are current and future issues the university will face.

“You only have so many seats and so many lecture halls for first-year courses and you can’t have students sitting in the aisle,” Schmidt said. “We have to maintain a quality experience. Sometimes quality and quantity don’t mesh.”

Schmidt said adding faculty in the next few years will be vital to ensure quality education, especially if enrollment numbers continue to rise. Increasing faculty could be difficult though, because of Compete Missouri, a plan for administrators to reallocate $7 million from the university’s operating budget to raise faculty salaries. The plan also includes a strategic hiring process, in which the university will leave many vacant positions unfilled and hire only where necessary.

“Compete Missouri is not something we decided we really wanted to do, it was something forced on us by the legislature’s miserable funding since 2001,” Schmidt said. “If it were decided that we would add no new faculty, period, that would be very bad. More faculty are going to be essential to meet the needs of more students.”

MU Residential Life has also had to plan around the record number of freshmen. Cramer Hall was reopened for use as a residence hall instead of as office space, and Campus Lodge and Campus View apartment complexes will provide extended campus space next year. Residential Life Director Frankie Minor said he doesn’t expect any problems with space for housing in 2009. A campuswide construction plan is in effect, and will provide extra space in 2009 that isn’t available this academic year. New residence halls located in the middle of campus should open 527 beds, Minor said, and Graham and Defoe halls will also reopen with an additional 307 beds. In December 2008, Hudson Hall will close, and Gillette Hall will close a year later.

Minor said he is examining enrollment numbers to determine whether the trend will continue.

“Is this the start of a new trend or is this just an anomaly? If it’s the start of a new trend then we’ll have to be much more strategic in how we accommodate that,” Minor said. “It may cause us to examine some of our housing policies for the next academic year.”

Minor said some universities facing large enrollment numbers have had to restrict the number of returning students that can live in the residence halls, and choose those who do by a lottery system or other merit systems like campus involvement, GPA or other factors.

“It’s really too early for us to tell whether we’re going to need to [change housing policies] and secondly what strategies we might use,” Minor said. “But certainly if this looks like the start of a new trend for higher numbers of students coming here, we’re going to have to do some long-range planning to figure out how we can best accommodate them.”

Ann Korschgen, MU’s vice provost for enrollment management, said she doesn’t anticipate any changes in the admissions process, but that enrollment is being watched closely.

“We’ll certainly begin monitoring the numbers and act accordingly,” Korschgen said.

Although higher enrollment numbers could affect housing, classroom space and faculty-to-student ratios, Korschgen said she doesn’t foresee any stricter requirements to enroll at MU.

“We’re very pleased with the quality and diversity of the students currently applying to MU,” she said. “We want to continue a good thing.”

Ultimately though, the MU faculty decides the admissions requirements, Korschgen said.

Schmidt said heightening requirements to enroll at MU isn’t the solution, but increasing faculty would help.

“The problem with stricter admission requirements is that it can have the opposite effect of decreasing enrollment,” he said, noting a failed attempt at doing so in the 1980s. “Because admissions requirements were higher, MU became seen as a more high quality institution and we got more applicants.”

Admissions are closed only to incoming freshmen. Korschgen said about 80 to 100 students usually apply between May and August, and about 80 percent enroll. Transfer students may still apply.

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