Enrollment this semester is the lowest Missouri Southern has seen for the past five years during the spring and fall.

Last spring’s enrollment of 5,194 decreased by 333, with 4,861 students enrolled this semester. Numbers dropped last fall as well. Enrollment was 5,593 in fall 2007, a decrease of 82 from fall 2006.

“The enrollment has gone up and down over the years and you can’t expect it to be static,” said Dr. Delores Honey, assistant vice president for assessment and institutional research. “We’d love for it to be climbing every year and it has been for the last few years. This is sort of a temporary dip in that long-range upward movement.”

Enrollment at both Crowder College and Pittsburg State University has increased. Crowder had 3,317 students enrolled last fall, an increase of 387 from the 2,930 students enrolled in fall 2006. PSU increased from an enrollment of 6,859 in fall 2006 to 7,087 last fall, a change of 228.

“PSU is close geographically, so they would be a natural competition. And Crowder is a competition, but they’re also a feeder to us,” said Honey, “so it’s a two-way street.”

According to Honey, Southern specifically faces competition against schools with lower tuition and those with A-plus programs that allow students to attend free of cost.

But, Honey thinks Southern’s decrease in enrollment is caused by more than just competition from other schools.”

“I think there’s a shrinking number of students in the pool in our service area,” she said. “So, the trend is that those [enrollment] numbers are going to be going down by quite a bit in the next few years.”

Dr. Bruce Speck, university president, plans to pull together an integrated marketing plan and re-evaluate admission resources.

“I don’t know that we have enough counselors at this point or enough recruiters,” Speck said.

Honey also attributes the decrease to the new payment policy and raises in tuition.

“The whole thing behind the tuition increase is the story we don’t hear a lot about, and that’s the decrease to appropriations from the state,” she said. “Those have gone down drastically since 2001.”

Raises in tuition are necessary, said Honey, for Southern to continue offering quality education, faculty, and facilities for students. But, she doesn’t think the raise will have a long-term negative effect on enrollment.

“I would suspect that Crowder will be increasing, I suspect that PSU will be increasing. I think if we all are increasing a bit, we’re still in the same comparative levels that we were,” she said.

Increasing enrollment is a top priority, said Honey.

“Dr. Speck has been very adamant that the most important goals here are retention and recruitment,” she said.

But the enrollment issues are bigger than just drawing students in. Speck says there will be phases in any plan to increase enrollment. Currently the focus is for short-term, those efforts will be evaluated for long range planning.

“All we’re doing now, really, is trying to figure out how we can boost fall enrollment, what kind of resources we may need to put there right now, or how we can process the applications and make sure we are serving the students well,” Speck said. “We have a small window of opportunity, but we have to make it a longer range.”

The First Year Experience program is one way Honey hopes to achieve this goal. The program involves creating a University Experience course to replace the College Orientation class. The new three-hour course will count toward core curriculum and is aimed at improving retention.

“We’re trying to get these students to transition into college in a way that sort of gives them a stronger support system,” she said. “And also makes them look toward the future more.”

Honey also thinks that the renovations being done on the campus and the addition of graduate programs will help to bring in students.

“We’re changing and there’s going to be a new look to this campus,” she said. “All of us are making changes here. I think that will affect how people look at us. But, I think in the long run, we’ll be much stronger for it.”

According to Honey, Southern has created transfer-plan programs with Crowder, for students who wish to continue their education.

“I think our key is just to try to work together to help the students,” she said. “If we can’t do that, we’re not serving this area the way we’re supposed to be.”

Honey said that Southern will continue enhancing its recruiting efforts.

“We [Missouri Southern] are a good buy,” she said. “Quality for less is still the bottom line of what we’re offering. But, I think our quality will be even more evident as time goes on.”