Missouri State University’s drop in fall enrollment causes revenue loss, budget cuts for next year

Published: Oct. 5, 2022 at 6:46 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Fallout from the pandemic still hurts higher education.

”Nationally, we have about million-and-a-half fewer people in college this fall than there were in the fall of 2019,” said Missouri State University President Clif Smart in an interview on Wednesday. “And most of that is somehow connected to the pandemic either directly or indirectly. It’s a different world, and we’re certainly going to have to figure out how to do what we do better and differently to assure that we’re still relevant.”

Earlier this week, at his State of the University address, Smart and his staff reviewed the numbers detailing how MSU has changed since the pandemic.

The enrollment figures:

--Overall enrollment this fall is 23,618, a decrease of 311 students from last fall (1.3 percent drop)

--Graduate student total is 4,183, an increase of 41 (1 percent increase)

--First-time new student enrollment is 2,531, a decrease of 253 (10 percent drop)

--First-time transfer undergraduate total is 1,419, a decrease of 47 (3.3 percent drop)

--The continuing undergraduate population is 10,491, a decrease of 517 (4.9 percent drop)

A yearly breakdown shows that over the past five years, the number of undergraduates seeking degrees has decreased by 3,810 students.

Those enrollment drops resulted in $6 million less revenue this school year from tuition and fees. But the university is offsetting that loss by not filling about $6 million worth of open faculty and staff positions.

But that is only a temporary fix.

So for the 2023-24 school year that starts next July, MSU plans on trimming its budget by $5 million. Considering the school’s budget runs in the hundreds of millions, it’s no cause for panic.

“It’s not a catastrophe. We are not in a crisis,” Smart reiterated. “But what we don’t want to happen is that every year you have a similar kind of decrease that creates a trend or spiral that ends up going in the wrong direction. It’s also an indication that you’re not providing the kinds of programs that people want. We’re a free market economy, and people are evaluating the value and cost of a variety of things. We had been on a 25-year growth span until the pandemic, and over the last two years, we’ve seen a meaningful decline. So we just need to make sure we can turn that around and move ahead.”

So the plan for the next two years is to reevaluate curriculum, work habits, programs, administrative structures....you name it, to see what is and what isn’t working in recruiting and retaining students.

“We tend to add things all the time, and rightfully so,” MSU Interim Provost John Jasinski said at the State of the University meeting. “But then we don’t take a pause and consider stopping to do something. There’s an art and science to that because you can’t keep doing everything.”

There will also be an emphasis on growing revenue by reexamining recruiting strategies, exploring new markets, developing and expanding outside partnerships, reassessing retention efforts, starting new academic programs, investing in programs that have the potential to grow, and reinvigorating underperforming programs.

“We sense there’s an urgency here, so I think we will have some significant changes,” Smart said. “For example, several years ago, our social work department reimagined its graduate program that only had a couple of dozen people in it. When they moved courses online where people could keep working and get their master’s degree program done from home, we now have over 200 people in that program. We also have a lot of students whose employers are paying for them to go to college, and about a third of our students start their education in community colleges. In all those cases, we need to make sure there’s a seamless transition and that there are no obstacles for those students in taking programs that are cutting-edge and meaningful. So we want to evaluate all our programs to make sure that’s happening.”

It’s all about adapting to an ever-changing world where the workforce and education are viewed very differently.

“Born in 1905, Missouri State has gone through so much change over the last century,” Jasinski said. “And I would say that Missouri State has always been better on the other side.”

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