As the fall semester started Monday, officials at the University of Missouri in Columbia were happy to see a bunch more freshman on campus this year.
After years of MU enrollment decline, this year’s freshman class of 4,696 students represents an increase of 13.1 percent over 4,134 a year ago. That is the biggest freshman jump MU has seen in a decade. But the overall campus enrollment continued to drop.
The university also saw a record 87.3 percent of the previous year’s freshman return for another fall semester.
“Our strong retention rate, which is one of the highest among all of Missouri’s universities, shows us that students have successful academic experiences on campus,” said Kim Humphrey, interim vice provost for enrollment management.
The university also saw a notable boost in the number of returning students moving into campus dorms. Residence halls are 93.4 percent full, compared to 77 percent this time last year.
University officials attributed the increased freshman enrollment in part to efforts to lower costs for students.
The university started a program to cut hundreds of dollars off the cost of textbooks and lower the cost of campus housing and dining plans. In addition the university launched several new scholarships, including its Missouri Land Grants, which covers the difference in tuition and fees for Missouri students who qualify for a federal Pell Grant, given for financial need. This year, 1,500 MU undergraduates benefited.
Another 240 students qualified for the university’s new Land Grant Honors scholarship, which covers 100 percent of unmet financial need, including tuition, fees, books and room and board for Pell-eligible students in the Honors College.
And officials held the university’s tuition increase to 1 percent.
In 2015, 6,191 first-time students enrolled at the Columbia campus. But after student-led protests against campus racism that fall, freshman enrollment plunged — dropping under 5,000 students for the first time since 2007 — to 4,770 students by 2016.
The fallout from the protests, which prompted the resignations of the UM System president and the chancellor of the Columbia campus, damaged the university image, led donors to threaten to withdraw support and stifled enrollment.
MU officials were also boasting that more than 1,000 students transferred to Mizzou this year, an increase of nearly 5 percent, and that minority enrollment is up 29.7 percent among the freshman.
But overall enrollment at MU is still down nearly 4 percent.
“We expected that,” said Christian Basi, university spokesman. “We had a very large graduating class. We also expect that for next year. But we are very excited about the numbers. It tells us that new students are seeing Mizzou as a great option.”