Enrollment surges at the University of Missouri

Thursday, August 28, 2008

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- For the seventh straight year, more students than ever are attending the University of Missouri's flagship campus.

In some quarters, that's a cause for celebration. More students mean more tuition dollars, and often a higher national profile.

But the spoils of record enrollment (29,761 as of Monday, the first day of classes) also bring an assortment of headaches: inadequate dorm space, crowded classrooms and a greater reliance on student teaching assistants and adjunct instructors. In mid-June, the school stopped accepting applications for the first time.

Total combined undergraduate and graduate student enrollment at Southeast Missouri State University on opening day stood at 9,843, up 0.8 percent from 9,763 in fall 2007.

Mizzou's 15.6 percent increase in freshmen -- nearly 800 more this year -- translated into a housing shortage that forced school officials to rent space at a pair of private apartment complexes two miles from campus.

In university parlance, the off-campus dorms are euphemistically referred to as the school's "extended campus."

First-year students assigned to the Campus Lodge and Campus View apartments -- or as the school prefers, Mizzou Quads and Tiger Diggs -- ride city buses to class and must still purchase campus meal plans even though their apartments come with full kitchens.

Few are complaining, though. For less than $400 a month per student, the apartments offer amenities not often found in dorm living: private bedrooms; washers and dryers; 42-inch flat screen, plasma televisions; and a swimming pool, sand volleyball court and communal hot tub.

"It sounded a lot better than being cramped in a little room," said Nick Miller, a freshman from the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles.

Part of the problem is a 45 percent increase in the number of returning students who have chosen to live closer to the classroom, said residential life director Frankie Minor. He attributes some of that surge to higher gas prices.

The increase in campus housing requests from returning students caught administrators so off-guard they are now considering a cap on such applications, Minor said.

School officials credit the university's growing popularity to a number of factors.

The population of college students both nationally and in Missouri continues to climb, a demographic trend experts expect to reverse itself in several years.

But chancellor Brady Deaton prefers to tout the school's academic virtues and long-term investments, from rising test scores among newcomers to newer buildings such as a $50 million student recreation center considered one of the nation's finest.

Missouri also has added recruiters in Illinois and Texas.

"It's clear that the message about the quality of the education at Missouri is out there, and it's growing," Deaton said.

Another explanation for the school's enrollment gains is one sure to send shivers through the bones of high-minded academics: last year's unprecedented success of the Tiger football team, which enters this season as a legitimate national championship contender.

The week of the team's brief stint at No. 1 in both the BCS standings and The Associated Press poll in late November, the campus admissions office reported a 20 percent increase in undergraduate applications.

"I have no doubt it's added some members to the fold," Deaton said.

The class of 2012 could also stand out as one of the most diverse in school history. Freshmen enrollment among blacks increased 27.5 percent and first-year Hispanic enrollment increased 29.7 percent.

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