MSU enrollment soars while Drury, Evangel, OTC numbers drop

Missouri State is gaining students faster than nearly all of its peers in the state and is one of the only institutions in the Springfield area to set a new enrollment record, year after year. A chart of MSU's student head count since 2011 resembles a staircase, each year a little higher than the last. The main campus surpassed 23,000 students this fall, increasing 16.1 percent over a five-year period. "Enrollment is one of our most important metrics," said MSU President Clif Smart. "It indicates that people want to come here and want to pay for our services." In Springfield, MSU was the only institution that made significant enrollment gains in the past five years. During the same period, Ozarks Technical Community College, Evangel University and Drury University experienced double-digit drops. A report by the Coordinating Board of Higher Education showed there were 377,317 students enrolled in colleges and universities across Missouri this fall. That number, relatively flat over the previous year, reflected a five-year drop of 4.9 percent. It also illustrated enrollment trends for each higher education sector over the five-year period. Overall, public four-year schools were up 4.7 percent, independent four-year schools were down 4.4 percent and public two-year schools were down 18.1 percent. Higher education officials said there are numerous reasons why a student opts to enroll at a particular institution, including location, size, degree options, reputation and affordability. They say many other factors impact enrollment, including the economy, recruitment efforts and the number of college-age students in an area. According to the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, the number of high school graduates in Missouri peaked in 2010 — when more than 70,000 picked up diplomas — but has declined by thousands in the years since. The drop reflects changes in the birth rate and people moving in and out of the state, not graduation or dropout rates. The commission predicts the state's annual graduation rate will soon level off at about 65,000. OTC spokesman Mark Miller said fewer high school graduates means there is more competition for the ones interested in going to college. It has also spurred institutions to ramp up recruitment of out-of-state and international students. "You have to work harder to get a greater share of the students," he said. Among public two-year schools, only four of the 14 saw a head count increase, including Crowder College in Neosho, which was up slightly. The...

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