Southeast enrollment hits a record 9,352

Thursday, September 20, 2001

Southeast Missouri State University officials and staff celebrated the school's record enrollment of 9,352 students on Wednesday, taping three signs with the number on the office door of Dr. Ken Dobbins, university president.

The headcount is up by 4.5 percent from a year ago when 8,951 students were enrolled.

The number of undergraduate and graduate students jumped by 1,010 from the first day of classes Aug. 20, when total headcount was reported at 8,342, to the end of the fourth week of classes Friday.

Last-minute enrollments are common, particularly with graduate students, school officials said.

Southeast's goal is to grow to about 10,000 students over the next four to five years, a goal that Dobbins believes is in sight for the 128-year-old university.

"We are a different university now than we were a decade ago," said Dobbins. Students are enrolling at Southeast because of the quality of the academic programs, he said.

Don Dickerson, president of the board of regents, welcomed the final enrollment figures. "It speaks well for our programs and speaks very loudly to what a great place this is to go to school," he said.

Dobbins said the large freshmen enrollment over the past four years and better retention of those students are the biggest factors in the enrollment growth.

He said the university gained enrollment from the St. Louis metropolitan area -- where recruiters intensified their efforts -- as well as in Southeast Missouri. Classes taught at higher-education centers in Malden, Kennett, Sikeston and Perryville also have contributed to the record enrollment, he said.

"You don't turn around enrollment overnight. We have been working on this six or seven years," Dobbins said.

Seeing the signs

Doug McDermott, student regent and a graduate student at Southeast, has noticed signs of the record enrollment. McDermott said he sees more students at the Student Recreation Center, the Towers cafeteria and other places on campus where they congregate.

"It seems like more people are signing up for organizations," said McDermott, who welcomes the enrollment growth. "It brings so much more diversity into our campus. There are always students everywhere, which is a cool thing."

Perhaps the only negative is parking. More students mean more cars, adding to the competition for campus parking spaces. "It is a challenging thing," said McDermott.

Freshman Sarah Fedak of Troy, Ill., said general education classes for beginning students are full. Her Towers East dorm floor is full.

But Fedak said classes aren't overcrowded. "It doesn't feel any differently than if we weren't part of a record," she said.

Southeast has more than doubled its enrollment since 1963, when the university had 4,002 students.

Steady growth

Enrollment grew steadily through 1984, when 9,189 students were taking classes at Southeast.

But enrollment declined steadily after that, bottoming out in 1994 when 7,925 students attended Southeast. School officials blamed the decline on the lack of a St. Louis office and weak recruitment efforts in the heavily populated St. Louis area.

"We lost our market share in St. Louis," Dobbins said.

Since then, the university has stepped up student recruitment in that area, including opening an outreach office in downtown St. Louis in 1997.

Enrollment has been on a steady rise, culminating in this fall's record.

Southeast has 8,098 undergraduate students enrolled this semester, up 4.4 percent from a year ago, final figures show. The number of graduate students stands at 1,254, up 5.3 percent.

School officials said graduate enrollment increased partly because more classes are being offered at off-campus sites.

University officials had braced for a record enrollment this summer, implementing a cap on freshman enrollment to keep classes and residence halls from being overcrowded.

Southeast has 1,606 beginning freshmen, up 4.2 percent from a year ago. The number of sophomore, junior and senior students also is up by about 3.4 percent. Southeast has 1,598 sophomores, 1,481 juniors and 1,828 seniors.

The number of returning students who are still freshmen stands at 798, down 4 percent. Dobbins said the university welcomes that decline, because it means more freshmen completed enough credit hours to return to the campus this fall as sophomores.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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