Southeast predicts modest enrollment growth

Friday, August 29, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ Southeast Missouri State University officials are predicting moderate enrollment growth.

After years of unprecedented growth, Southeast Missouri State University is setting more moderate enrollment goals.

Last year university leaders proudly announced freshmen enrollment was up 19 percent, which they quickly attributed to the new River Campus and targeted recruiting efforts in St. Louis. The university capitalized on the increase, using it to bolster its reputation and demonstrate success in marketing.

This year growth flatlined in comparison, with the number of first-time freshman up 0.9 percent Monday, the first day of class. The first-day report indicates there were 1,842 freshmen on campus, up from 1,826 last year.

After the 2007 surge, admissions advisers weren't sure the university would hit the same record-breaking mark again. Their goals have turned more toward maintenance and stability.

"The growth from this point forward will be more modest from what we have seen over the last five to 10 years," said Dr. Debbie Below, assistant vice president for enrollment management. Still, she said, "we are very excited to be in demand."

The demand has sent university leaders scrambling to add sections of classes, hire new faculty and find housing options. Despite growth being slight, housing is particularly problematic because dorms hit near-capacity last year.

Living space at a premium

A $23.2 million dorm under construction won't be ready until next fall, so some students are sharing rooms with residence hall advisers or living in converted student lounges. The university also purchased and transformed an apartment complex into dorms and is using two off-campus, university-owned houses as temporary rooms.

By 2014, admissions advisers hope enrollment will hit 11,400, about a 7 percent increase. The increase is half of what the university experienced in the same six-year time period leading up to now.

"Growth for growth's sake shouldn't be our No. 1 objective. Quality and access are our objectives," Below said.

Nevertheless, the 2014 goal is ambitious because universities across the nation are preparing for a future decline in the number of high school graduates, Below said. The population decrease is attributed to "baby boomlet" children — those born to baby boomers — moving beyond college-age. In Missouri, the drop in high school graduates is expected to begin in 2011.

Maintaining or increasing market share will become the university's main priority.

This year overall campus enrollment, based on first-day figures, increased at nearly the same rate as freshman enrollment, from 9,763 to 9,843. The number could vary when four-week census data is released.

Elsewhere, opening day enrollment at the University of Missouri surged 6 percent (15.6 percent for freshmen) and 1.4 percent at Missouri State University.

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