The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

May 15, 2013

MSSU to develop plan to boost, maintain enrollment

JOPLIN, Mo. — Administrators at Missouri Southern State University will work this summer to create what they call a strategic enrollment plan.

The plan will be developed from research and input from Noel-Levitz, a higher education consulting firm based in Colorado and Iowa that has been hired by the university to help determine how to attract, retain and graduate more students.

Overall enrollment declined about 3.63 percent in fall 2011 and another 3 percent last fall, representing a loss of about 385 students over those years. Enrollment for fall 2012 stood at 5,417.

“Our objective was to really help us look at our contact with students, from the initial contacts before they are Missouri Southern students all the way through the admissions cycle and then to our current students and how we’re serving them,” said Darren Fullerton, vice president of student affairs and enrollment management. “We’ll be looking at all of the data and trying to come up with a strategic enrollment plan which outlines our actions from here.”

With the bulk of their analyses completed over the course of the past year, Noel-Levitz consultants have already presented some broad enrollment-boosting recommendations to MSSU administrators.

One recommendation is to focus on the university’s Lion Pride areas, according to Jim Anderson, an associate consultant for Noel-Levitz. The Lion Pride tuition program — which offers in-state tuition to residents in more than 120 counties in Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Illinois — has been in place for one year and was a Noel-Levitz initiative. It resulted in an 8.9 percent increase in out-of-state students enrolled at MSSU last fall, according to enrollment data.

During a presentation to the Board of Governors and administrators last month, Anderson said general population growth in most of the Lion Pride market areas could be a previously untapped source of future enrollment for MSSU.

According to his firm’s research, Oklahoma and Arkansas are projected to see steady growth in the number of high school graduates they produce over the next decade, he said. Missouri is expected to maintain a “relatively stable” number of high school graduates, while Kansas — which is also projected to experience growth — was deemed “a market that we’ve probably not matured yet,” he said.

Administrators will need to increase resources for recruitment if they want to draw students from the Lion Pride areas, Anderson said.

Other recommendations suggested by the firm include increasing admissions staffing, launching a broader and stronger campaign to target and recruit high school students; and increasing outreach efforts to prospective transfer students.

Anderson said that in order to sustain potential enrollment growth, administrators will also need to consider improving on-campus housing options. The residence halls — particularly Blaine and McCormick halls, the two oldest — have already been noted by school officials as needing renovation.

The master plan adopted by the university last summer recommends that MSSU renovate and upgrade existing residence halls, which hold 780 beds at maximum capacity, and their furnishings. It also suggests building room for 700 more beds as well as housing for families.

A final proposal detailing enrollment-boosting strategies is slated to go before the Board of Governors sometime this fall, Anderson said. It would provide a plan for the next five years, he said.

Implementing any of the strategies will likely come with a price tag. As administrators work to prepare a final draft of next year’s budget to present at today’s board meeting, it’s unclear how much MSSU will put toward the initiatives.

“I think funding is always a concern, especially when you’re dealing with the state and you have to rely on enrollment,” Fullerton said. “That’s where we have to be strategic and see what initiatives we can do. We’ll definitely look at the projects that will hopefully have the greatest impact for our students and try to address those first.”

Rob Yust, vice president for business affairs, said the cost of some proposed initiatives are as yet unknown. Known costs will be worked into the budget as funding allows, he said.

“If we know how much that initiative is going to cost us, then obviously we want to put it in the budget,” he said.

Fullerton said some initiatives have already been put into place, such as establishing a dean’s position to oversee student retention and streamlining internal admissions and financial aid processes.

MSSU officials hired Noel-Levitz in early 2012 at a cost of nearly $500,000 over four years. Fullerton said the expense was worth it.

“Just with the Lion Pride change, we were able to see enough savings and enough additional students coming in to cover the cost of Noel-Levitz, so from here on out, the things we’re doing are just enhancing the university and the service to our students,” he said.

Meetings

The Budget Committee of the Board of Governors will meet at 3 p.m. today in Room 356 of Billingsly Student Center, followed by a meeting of the full board at 4 p.m. in Room 310.

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