JOPLIN, Mo. —
Enrollment at Missouri Southern State University declined for the second consecutive fall semester, officials told the Board of Governors on Friday.
Official enrollment for the fall semester is 5,417 students, down from 5,591 students reported in the fall last year, according to Darren Fullerton, vice president of student affairs.
The university’s enrollment had dipped in fall 2011, also by about 3 percent; officials at the time blamed the decrease on the impact of the May 22, 2011, tornado.
This year, MSSU saw a large drop-off in the number of part-time students, or students taking fewer than 12 credit hours per semester. Fullerton told the Globe he thinks many of those students instead of returning to school might have chosen job opportunities currently available in Joplin as the community rebuilds.
He also said the overall decline can be traced to lingering effects of the tornado, such as a decrease in affordable housing options for students or a desire by students to focus on their financial stability. More than 200 students have applied this semester for tornado-related scholarships or financial assistance, he said.
A record number of recent graduates — the 2011-12 academic year boasted the largest graduating class in the past decade, with 1,095 degrees conferred — could also have contributed to the enrollment decline, according to Delores Honey, assistant vice president for assessment and institutional research.
Despite the decline, enrollment in several subsets of the student population has grown over last year, Fullerton told the board at its monthly meeting Friday on the MSSU campus. Specifically, the number of graduate students is up 8 percent, the number of students taking only online courses is up 4.7 percent and the number of first-time freshmen is up 3.5 percent.
Fullerton touted an 8.9 percent increase over last year in the number of students coming from outside the state of Missouri. He attributed the increase to Lion Pride Tuition, a plan that allows qualified students living in large portions of Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Illinois to pay in-state tuition rates to attend MSSU. It was effective beginning this semester.
“This increase has been an encouraging sign to us that expanding our in-state rate was a good thing for students,” Fullerton said in prepared remarks to the board. “It has made getting an education more accessible.”
Fullerton told the Globe after Friday’s meeting that although Lion Pride Tuition has so far seemed to be a success, officials had been concerned about not seeing any results of it this fall. The board approved the tuition plan in May, which Fullerton said is a time when many students who plan to attend college in the fall have already committed to an institution.
“We really weren’t sure we would see a significant increase (in the number of out-of-state students) this year,” he said.
President Bruce Speck, in his prepared remarks to the board, called Lion Pride Tuition “one significant example of how we are reaching out to attract students.” He said he expects to see more students in future semesters taking advantage of the plan.
Also up this year is the number of international students, Fullerton said. The number of international students new to MSSU this year is about 75, up from about 50 last year; a record total of 152 are enrolled at MSSU this fall.
In response to a question from board member Lynn Ewing about possible reasons for the increase, Fullerton said he thinks the international student support staff and recruiting staff have focused their efforts on outreach to MSSU’s current international partners, such as Ansbach University in Germany and the Saudi Cultural Mission of Saudi Arabia.
The number of credit hours taken by Missouri Southern State University students declined by about 1 percent to 64,959 hours this fall from 65,314 hours last fall.