MU freshman enrollment flat

The predicted class size is similar to last year’s based on deposits received
Thursday, August 2, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:34 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA-MU officials are preparing to welcome a 2007 freshman class that will be about the same size as last fall’s, despite a more than 5 percent increase in admissions applications.

The prediction, outlined in a memorandum to top campus administrators by the Division of Enrollment Management, is based on the number of $150 deposits MU has received from prospective students. The deposits are required before incoming freshmen can declare a major and secure a place for fall classes.

Deposits have increased 1.7 percent since fall 2006, but MU officials are worried about what they say is a growing trend of students submitting deposits to more than one school and their willingness, especially among high-ability students, to forfeit those deposits.

“(We) think the best we can hope for is that the final number will be very close to the size of the freshman class last year,” the memorandum concluded.

If the division’s estimates hold up, it would be the second year in a row of negligible growth for MU, which has had to rely more on student tuition because state appropriations have not kept pace with inflation.

Last fall, MU had 26,833 students attending classes on campus — a 0.64 percent increase in enrollment over fall 2005. Between 2001 and 2005, MU averaged annual growth of 2.75 percent.

MU won’t release its official enrollment numbers until Aug. 20, the first day of classes, said director of admissions Barbara Rupp. She said the most recent numbers, which were compiled in June, reflect “a snapshot in time” that could change.

“It is important to not make too many assumptions,” Rupp said. “We always err on the conservative side when predicting enrollment. Eight or 10 years ago you could tell by deposits, but now more and more students give multiple deposits to different schools. It is no longer a completely reliable measurement.”

However, the actual number of students who made a deposit and then attended MU has not varied one way or the other by more than 1.7 percent since 2002, according to the division’s memorandum. In June 2006, for example, the division reported that MU received 4,781 deposits for a freshman class of 4,838 ­— a difference of 57 students or about 1.2 percent.

The College of Human Environmental Sciences had a 26.6 percent decrease in freshman deposits for 2007. Victoria Shahan, student services director for HES, said she can’t explain the decrease but thinks it may be a leveling off of enrollment. The college has fluctuated between decreases and increases of total undergraduate students since fall 2000, when the school had 1,021 students. Fall 2006 enrollment was 1,028.

“We are a small college, so 26 percent is a lot for us,” Shahan said. “We get students who switch what they want to do at Summer Welcome and come to us and those numbers aren’t provided in the data.”

Rose Porter, dean of the Sinclair School of Nursing, said deposit data — which has a 10.3 percent decrease for the school in 2007 — is unreliable because students often change their major after submitting their deposit. Porter said that while the school has received 96 deposits, 115 students turned up during Summer Welcome.

“Because our numbers aren’t huge it doesn’t take much to look like a huge decrease,” Porter said. “Until you get through Summer Welcome you don’t know. We always have many more students apply than we can admit. I would say our numbers look good.”

Deposits are also down 1.5 percent for the College of Engineering, which had 1,778 students last fall, down from previous years.

“In general around the country we haven’t seen growth in engineering programs,” said Lex Akers, associate dean of the College of Engineering. “It is a serious problem in America. Our numbers at MU have stayed relatively constant, so it looks like we are going to be pretty stable in the fall.”

The School of Journalism, which since 2000 has more than tripled its enrollment, to 1,963 last fall, saw a 2.7 percent decrease in freshman deposits.

Brian Brooks, the school’s associate dean, said that’s actually a welcome trend. “We’re happy because we are down to where we would like to be,” he said. “It was getting to be too crowded in our upper level classes. There is high demand for the program, so we are not worried about a downward trend in enrollment.”

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