New numbers have Mizzou leaders boasting the university is on the rebound

A predominately black student group, Concerned Student 1950, led protests against systemic racism on the MU Columbia campus in 2015
A predominately black student group, Concerned Student 1950, led protests against systemic racism on the MU Columbia campus in 2015 Kansas City Star

Is the University of Missouri making a comeback after the 2015 racially charged protests that erupted on the Columbia campus, tarnished its reputation and stunted enrollment growth?

University leaders sure think so.

As proof, they’re pointing to MU’s latest preliminary applications-for-admission numbers from potential freshmen and transfer students.

As of Jan. 29, freshman applications at MU were up 16.8 percent, from 15,060 at this time last year to 17,583. Transfer applications increased 12.2 percent, from 806 to 904.

“Mizzou is roaring back,” Chancellor Alexander N. Cartwright said in a statement Friday afternoon.

Cartwright said that to reverse the two years of declining enrollment, MU has added more personal outreach, more events in high schools and at college fairs, and increased out-of-state recruitment.

“We called on our team to re-examine how we do things and think outside the box,” said Pelema Morrice, vice provost for enrollment management. “I am proud of these efforts and encouraged by these early numbers.”

Morrice said the latest numbers show that “Mizzou has momentum, and we plan to keep that energy going.”

As late as September the university reported that its fourth-week census enrollment numbers for the 2017-2018 academic year showed enrollment down, but not as much as had been expected given the drop the previous year.

Total enrollment this year 30,870. The university had expected a lower number — just slightly more than 30,000. September numbers for the 2016-2017 academic year put MU’s enrollment at 32,777. The year before it had been nearly 35,000.

MU officials admitted this fall that the school was still working to recover from the blow it took to in the fall of 2015 when student-led, racially charged protests resulted in the toppling of the university system president and the chancellor of the Columbia campus.

Both stepped away from their positions after football players threatened not to play a game and a student languished on a seven-day hunger strike. Students and faculty called for their resignations because of how claims of systemic racism on the campus were handled and because university administration seemed slow to respond to a list of demands for more diversity among faculty and students on the campus.

Since then the university has stepped up recruitment and put millions into advertising. MU recruiting teams visited more than 600 Missouri high schools last fall. They also:

▪ Attended more than 450 college fairs nationwide.

▪ Hosted more than 20 counselor events.

▪ Added new, off-campus events, including “Scholars Nights” in St. Louis and Kansas City.

▪ Introduced the Common App, which applicants can use to apply to hundreds of colleges and universities worldwide.

Not only has the university focused on increasing its freshman class, it also has worked to build bridges with transfer students, an MU news release said Friday.

Last May the university signed a memorandum of understanding with community colleges to ease the transition into the four-year Columbia campus.

In addition MU has taken steps to make getting a higher education on their campus more affordable and this summer announced that the university is offering a free or significantly subsidized education to students who qualify for a federal Pell Grant based on financial need.

MU officials now boast about an array of other cost-saving measures the university has launched in the last two years to encourage potential students to apply and enroll, including several new scholarship awards for students who live in one of eight Missouri border states and children of alums and ROTC students. The university has also lowered on campus food and housing costs and started program that cut costs on textbooks.

University officials said they are using the latest application numbers as a chance to let the public know what they’ve been doing to rebound from the setback of 2015.

“We have been aggressively looking for opportunities to share our story with prospective students and their families, and that story is resonating,” Cartwright said. “I am delighted to see students voting with their applications. We can’t wait to welcome them to campus.”

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc