College recruiters in Missouri have about three years before the number of high school graduates starts to decrease, increasing the competition for first-time freshman students.
According to “Projections of High School Graduates,” a study of trends in high school graduation rates across the country, the number of Missouri students will grow slightly until 2009, then begin to decrease until about the year 2012, when growth will become relatively flat.
As a result, said Chuck May, associate director of admissions for MU, many schools are trying to ramp up recruitment efforts now to increase enrollment.
MU is already sending more recruitment e-mails to more prospective students, May said, to take advantage of a popular — and inexpensive — form of communication among teenagers. “Our cost doesn’t increase because of e-mail,” May said.
MU’s strategy will also involve targeting certain students, such as minorities, high achievers and those seeking to major in specific subjects. They have also begun contacting students earlier in their high school careers. In the past, MU’s recruiting brochures were sent to mostly juniors and seniors. Now, the university has begun sending information about MU to high school sophomores.
The Internet has also become an important tool for college recruiters. Last year, MU hired Christine Deane, an information specialist, to develop and manage the university’s Web site in conjunction with efforts by the Office of Admissions. Deane said her job will be to drive more prospective students to the Web site and engage them in ways that will make them want to visit the campus.
“We want to make it (MU’s Web site) easier for student and parents to use by making it more colorful and having features that appeal to 17- and 18-year-olds,” Deane said. “We also began including more features to show what life of students is like.”
“Projections of High School Graduates,” published by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, predicts that the class of 2008-09 will be the largest ever in Missouri, topping 55,000. After that, the decline in the number of graduates could be as much as 5 percent per year until 2013.
John Faire, associate vice president for enrollment management at Truman State University in Kirksville, says for most schools in the Midwest, this demographic shift is not a surprise. Like MU, Truman is looking to increase the amount of electronic information it sends to prospective students, as well as generate more early awareness among high school freshmen and sophomores.
However, unlike MU, Truman is also focusing its efforts on the cost of college education, which in Missouri has been steadily rising and now outpaces inflation. Faire said it is important for students to know the cost of the colleges they are interested in — and for schools to know what potential students are willing to pay.
“We may be the first choice for a student, but if there’s not enough scholarship money, they won’t come,” Faire said. “But we could be the second choice for a student and there is enough scholarship money. So the willingness those students have to pay for a certain school is important to know early on.”
May said MU will also begin trying to attract more students from other states.
While states in the Northeast will see the greatest decline in public school enrollment in the next few years, according to the projections study, the South and West are poised to see growth in the number of students entering public schools in 2007-08.
One state that already exports a fair number of graduates to Missouri colleges, Illinois, is also expected to see an increase in graduates, a fact that May and MU recruiters have already taken note of.
“That is one of the few states that will not have a decline in high school graduates,” May said. “We’re looking into out-of-state markets and expanding our markets to places like Illinois, whose graduation numbers will actually be continually increasing.”