As this year’s record number of MU freshmen prepare for finals, university administrators are faced with a math problem of their own: what to do with an even bigger class of freshmen next fall. Compared to last year, applications as of Nov. 1 are up about 18.5 percent.
While admissions officers are excited by the increase — in quality as well as number — they caution that it is still too early to tell if 2004 will be another record year for enrollment. Though the admissions office declines to prophesy, other campus administrators are beginning to plan. After all, they only have eight months to find places to put these would-be Tigers.
The jump in applications has not come as a surprise to MU’s admissions department; rather, it’s an indication that new recruitment strategies are paying off, said Assistant Director Chuck May.
“We’re visiting more high schools this year, we’re doing more college fairs this year, more direct mailings and e-mailings,” May said. “We expected the increase.”
In addition to better targeted direct mailings — by looking at where students have come from in the past and purchasing lists of students with high standardized test scores — the department has increased the focus on the campus visit program. An average of 40 to 100 prospective students have toured the campus each day during October and November, which are peak months for the tours.
Studies have shown campus visits are the No. 1 decision-maker, Admissions Director Georgeanne Porter said, and the increased demand for tours is a good sign. More than 700 people signed up to attend Meet Mizzou Day on Nov. 8, compared to about 400 last year. No accurate count was available on how many showed up.
The 18.5 percent increase in early applications is part of a trend over the past few years, Porter said — the number of applications as of Nov. 1 has more than tripled since 1992. This year, there are increases in nearly all academic divisions, and the quality of the applicants has increased as well: The number whose class rank is at the 80th percentile and above is up more than 17 percent.
“We’re up in every high-ability category. We’re up in all our ethnic-minority categories. Right now, the news is all good,” Porter said. “We’d like to freeze it right now.”
But May and Porter both stress that it’s still early to make predictions. After all, a 39 percent increase in Nov. 1 applications for the 1995 school year led to an increase of just 6 percent in enrollment, and gains in early applications for the fall semester 2001 were followed by a slight dip in freshmen enrollment.
“We have a scholarship deadline on Dec. 1, and that’s when a lot of applications come in,” Porter said. “We’ll have a much better picture by Jan. 1 of whether this is just an early bump in applications or if we actually have an increase.”
“Because we had a record class last year, and record enrollment overall, one of the messages we’ve been putting out to high schools and to students who are inquiring is to apply early, because housing becomes tight, and that’s why we’re really being cautious about this,” Porter said. “We think we got the message out, and we think students are simply applying early.”
Although Porter said nothing drastic was planned in the event that applications stay up, students who wait until the last minute — or later — may be out of luck. While there are no plans to institute a cap on freshmen admissions, as was done on the Rolla campus last June, Porter said the May 1 application deadline may become stricter.
“In previous years that’s been a soft deadline,” she said. “We’ve warned high school counselors and students that this year that could be a hard deadline.”
Frankie Minor is glad prospective students are applying early — as the director of Residential Life, it’s his job to find them all beds.
“We wanted to make sure the message was out there,” Minor said. “In the past, through careful planning we’ve been able to accommodate pretty much anyone who wanted housing, with the exception of students who applied really, really late in the process, such as a few weeks before classes begin.”
This fall, 130 MU freshmen ended up in Hillcrest Hall at Stephens College, waiting for other rooms to become available. The last 46 will be out by the end of the semester.
“Our concern is that if the freshmen class is about the same size as it was last year, we’re going to be in the exact same situation,” Minor said. “And given the increase in admissions applications we’ve seen so far — that the freshmen class size might be even bigger than it was last year — there may be the possibility that we may have to turn some students away, just because we just don’t have the space.
“We don’t want anyone to be surprised by that.”
Even with the addition of the Virginia Avenue housing complex next fall, the university will only see a net gain of 225 beds; the Smith and Donnelly dorms are being demolished to make room for another complex scheduled to open in 2006. As a result, Minor said, there are preliminary plans to use Hillcrest again, as well as restricting the number of spaces in certain communities available to returning students.
The department is also in the process of tentatively planning what Freshmen Interest Groups and learning communities to offer next year.
In the FIG program, students with similar interests or majors are placed together in residence halls and enroll in two or three classes together. The program, started in 1995, has grown from 225 students in 21 FIGs to about 1200 students in more than 80 groups.
“We have to play particularly close attention to enrollment trends and demand,” Minor said. “We track each year what the demand for each one of our FIGs and learning communities, and then say, ‘OK, can we create more of these?’ ”
Ultimately, Minor said, students will need to pay close attention getting things done early.
“Whether it was classes that they needed, whether it was residence halls or parking spaces they were seeking, in the past we’ve been able to accommodate most anybody who wanted something, they just may have had to compromise,” he said. “It is almost certain that we will not have enough space for all the students who want to live on campus, so those students who don’t do things on time are going to be the ones who are affected.”
The situation isn’t as dire when it comes to finding space for students’ cars, but there will almost certainly be some grumbling, said Jim Joy, director of Parking and Transportation Services.
“We have the capacity for the cars,” he said, “(but) it may not be convenient for what the person is wanting.
“We’ve still got capacity for another two, three, four hundred cars in the Hearnes lot today, and with the arena opening this coming fall, we’ll regain another 400 spots that are closed now because of the construction,” he said.
Joy said there has been discussion of adding two commuter buses in the morning, which would bring the number of shuttles serving the commuter lots to six. But it is mass transit, he said, and students will need to plan for some wait time, regardless. There is also space in the parking garages on campus for students who don’t want to wait and don’t mind paying the meters.
And in one area of campus, at least, applying early will be of little use to incoming freshmen. Parking permits are issued on the basis of seniority — faculty and staff get first priority, then graduate students, and on down the ranks through the undergraduates. Joy said incoming freshmen are last on the list:
“We park them after we’ve parked everybody else.”