Despite fee hike, SEMO has record enrollment

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Escalating fees haven't kept students from attending Southeast Missouri State University, which experienced record fall enrollment for the second consecutive year.

The university has 9,534 students enrolled this fall, up nearly 2 percent or 182 students from a year ago, thrilled school officials said Tuesday. The increase comes at a time of state funding cuts that prompted the university to raise tuition by $23 per credit hour for the current academic year. The cost for in-state undergraduates rose from $117.50 a credit hour for tuition and general fees to $140.50 per credit hour.

But Southeast students say the Cape Girardeau school remains a bargain compared to other four-year public colleges in the state and region.

"Fees are going up everywhere," said John Hirst, a senior from St. Charles, Mo. "Everybody is still looking for an education."

Katie Mees, a junior from St. Louis, said Southeast is affordable, particularly compared with private schools, where fees are much higher.

Enrollment has increased by more than 1,600 students over the past eight years. The university hopes to boost enrollment to about 10,000 students over the next four years.

This fall's enrollment figures include several hundred students taking classes at higher education centers in Kennett, Sikeston, Malden and Perryville, Mo. But school officials said they don't have a breakdown yet on enrollment at those centers, which in recent years have accounted for about 600 to 700 students.

Southeast students living on campus are paying from $8,900 to $10,500 a year in room and board, tuition, parking and other fees, including textbook rentals.

Students who have shopped around for a college don't blink an eye at such figures. The average annual cost for four-year public schools was $9,200 two years ago, according to the national College Board.

Tuition alone amounts to $3,744 this school year for Southeast students taking 30 credit hours of classes. That's just under the nationwide average of $3,751 in tuition for public four-year colleges, according to the National Association of College Stores.

Students said Southeast has a growing reputation in the St. Louis area, where the university has made recruiting gains in recent years.

"I just really think it is a fad that catches on," said senior Jason Weintraub of St. Louis as he and his friends ate lunch at the glass-roofed Skylight Terrace in the University Center.

Southeast has become a popular choice with St. Louis area students, who say cost and its proximity to home are reasons they chose the school.

Weintraub, who has attended Southeast for the past year and a half, said the increased enrollment has meant bigger classes. "Some of my classes have 40 people in them. When I first came down here, there were 25 at most."

The increased enrollment also has brought more cars to campus, he said, which has made it harder to find a parking space.

Dr. Ken Dobbins, Southeast president, said students at Southeast pay the lowest tuition and general fees of any four-year public university in Missouri that offers both undergraduate and graduate programs.

Dobbins and other school officials said the enrollment gain demonstrates that students are willing to pay for a quality education.

"This is perceived as good value for the money," said Art Wallhausen, associate to the president.

Economy a factor

The slow economy is a factor too, said Dr. Terry Sutton, an economics professor at Southeast.

Sutton said universities across the country have seen growing enrollments. In tough economic times, people enroll in college because they can't find decent jobs, Sutton said.

"Students realize that they can't get a decent job without a college education," he said.

Southeast's final enrollment figure grew by 781 students since the first day of classes on Aug. 19.

Total undergraduate head count stands at 8,351, up 3.1 percent from a year ago.

The increase is largely in the junior and senior classes, university officials said. Southeast has 1,643 juniors, up nearly 11 percent from last fall. Southeast has 1,915 seniors, a 4.8 percent increase. The number of sophomores stands at 1,599, up less than 1 percent.

"I think we are getting our retention up. Our transfers are up, and that showed in the junior and senior numbers," Dobbins said.

The university has 1,566 beginning freshmen, down 40 from a year ago.

The number of returning freshmen stands at 848, down 6.3 percent from fall 2001. School officials say that's always a low number because most freshmen complete enough credit hours their first year to return as sophomores the next school year.

Southeast has 1,183 graduate students enrolled this fall, down 5.7 percent from a year ago. The number of students seeking master's degrees is up slightly, but Southeast has fewer graduate students seeking specialist degrees in education this fall, school officials said.

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