Fall classes started at University of Missouri on Monday and while enrollment is down on the Columbia campus, MU officials boast that a high percentage of last year’s freshmen returned for a second year.
More than 4,100 students make up this year’s freshman class, down nearly 700 students from last year. But preliminary numbers released by the university indicate that 86.6 percent of freshmen from last year came back. MU says that’s the second-highest retention rate in the school’s history.
“We’re excited about what our preliminary numbers are showing,” said Pelema Morrice, vice provost for enrollment management.
“These are stronger numbers than what was indicated earlier this year. Additionally, our strong retention number, which is one of the highest among all of Missouri’s universities, shows us that students have successful academic experiences on campus.”
However, MU is still struggling to recover from the blow it took to its reputation in the fall of 2015. Overall enrollment numbers this year are still down at MU, as university officials had expected.
Classes began with an enrollment of more than 30,000 students.
Preliminary figures on opening day are not official because many students continue to enroll or drop out in the first few weeks. Official numbers are gathered during the fourth week of classes and will be released in late September.
At this time last year MU’s enrollment was at 32,777, including 4,799 freshmen. The year before enrollment was at nearly 35,500.
Christian Basi, a university spokesman, pointed out that in May based on admission applications administrators were projecting a freshmen class of about 4,000. So the enrollment of 4,100 this year means that more than 100 additional students enrolled in about the last three months.
Freshman enrollment at the Columbia campus has fallen by more than 35 percent in the two years since the fall semester of 2015, when racially charged student protests and a threatened boycott by the football team forced the UM System president to resign and for Mizzou’s chancellor to step down.
The 2016 freshman class was down 22.9 percent from 2015.
University officials have attributed the drop in enrollment in part to the fallout from the 2015 campus unrest, including questions about why university leaders did not immediately fire Melissa Click, the communications professor who called for “muscle” to remove a journalist during a campus protest.
Some blame also has been placed on a demographic shift resulting in fewer high school graduates, plus increased competition from peer institutions for Midwest students.
MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright, named to the position on May 24, said the university plans to improve its numbers further.
“I’m very excited to be here at this critical time, and I’m grateful for the support of our alumni and friends and the dedication of our faculty and staff. I’m excited to get to work as the new academic year begins.”