Race protests at Mizzou could stunt freshmen enrollment

Last November, student protesters on the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia reacted to news of the resignation of University of Missouri System president Tim Wolfe.
Last November, student protesters on the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia reacted to news of the resignation of University of Missouri System president Tim Wolfe. deulitt@kcstar.com

Fewer freshmen are applying to the University of Missouri for fall enrollment than a year earlier, and race protests that put the Columbia campus under a national spotlight contributed to the drop, according to an internal email from MU’s director of enrollment.

So far, the university has received 18,377 freshman applications, compared to 19,318 applications last year. However, this year’s numbers are 123 higher when compared with January 2014, according to the university’s enrollment update.

Student protests last fall over the racial climate at the Columbia campus — including a hunger strike and the football team threatening to not play — led to the reassignment of Mizzou’s chancellor and the resignation of the university system’s president. The MU protests set off a series of race-related rallies and protests on campuses across the country.

An internal memo from director of admissions Chuck May said the controversy along with several other factors contributed to the decrease in applications, but officials also said it’s too early to accurately forecast what the final enrollment will be.

“While we don’t have any clear data, we know that the events this past fall have had an impact, and we are answering any questions that parents and students have about those events,” May said in the email, which the university released to The Star.

“We are working closely with many on campus to make every effort possible in the coming months to minimize that decrease,” May’s memo said.

University staff who talk to potential students and their parents when they visit the campus have reported fielding specific questions about fall protests and reports of systemic racism on the campus.

“We did receive a lot of national attention,” said Christian Basi, university spokesman. “We would be remiss not to consider that it would have some impact.”

However, he said the university has been expecting a dip in freshman enrollment for some time because of “the last baby boomer echo 18 years ago. We are not seeing as many high school graduates in Missouri, in Illinois and Kansas, areas we also draw from,” Basi said.

Although overall enrollment at MU jumped last fall, freshman enrollment numbers for last fall were down 5 percent to 6,191 from 6,515 the previous year.

Moving to the Southeastern Conference also has affected applications, Basi said, since attractive schools in the SEC now also recruit in Mizzou territory and siphon off potential applicants.

On top of that, May said increased competition, particularly from rival universities in the Chicago area — a major recruiting ground for MU — also affected applications.

The applicant decline is entirely from out of state, with applications from Missouri even with last year. The fall applications included a drop of 78 black students compared with last fall, but an increase of 24 compared with two years ago.

Transfer applications also dropped, down by 94 compared with last year but up 17 from two years ago.

May said University of Missouri schools and colleges are calling prospective students this semester to answer any questions, while faculty and current students have been added to the recruitment travel team to share positive experiences with potential recruits and their parents.

The university’s goal is to increase its enrollment to 38,000 students from about 35,000. Basi said the university has no real deadline for freshmen to apply and puts no cap on enrollment.

Interim University of Missouri System president Mike Middleton said in November that he doesn’t believe the plans to increase enrollment need to be changed in light of the protests.

“There are some parents who are reluctant to send their kids here” after events this fall, Middleton said. “I think the Columbia campus might experience less growth in the immediate future than they had projected. But I don’t think it’s going to be a dramatic drop.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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