The University of Missouri released fall enrollment numbers last week and, as expected, they are down once again. The freshman class this year will be about 2/3 the size of the freshman class in 2015 before protests rocked the campus. The Associated Press reports this year will mark the lowest enrollment since 2008:
Official numbers released Wednesday show the university attracted 20,870 students this fall, down 12.9 percent since a record set in 2015.
Missouri did slightly better than expected in attracting new freshman but the total of 4,134 is down 546 from last fall and 2,060 fewer than 2015.
Freshmen enrollment in 2015 was 6,209. That means this year’s enrollment is 66.5% of what it was two years ago. Mizzou is now renting out empty dorm rooms to families who want to stay on campus when they attend football games. The situation is so dire that the school has hired the crisis management team that handled the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
The Board of Curators hired Edelman Inc. — the same firm that Pennsylvania State University used after the sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The curators approved an initial contract capping the company’s services at $349,750 during the summer of 2016, according to a contract obtained through an open records request…
Christian Basi, longtime spokesman for Mizzou who is now the spokesman for the university system after most of that office was laid off, said Edelman’s role has been mostly on an as-needed basis.
The firm has helped with social media, advised on potential issues as they started to brew and coached “campus communicators,” according to Basi.
“They have been available for any advice and input related to crisis communication,” he said, adding that Mizzou in particular has sought advice “fairly consistently” since the start of the contract.
The crisis firm has a lot of work to do. A 2016 survey found that 40% of Mizzou students considered leaving during their first year. ABC 17 News reports the survey of 800 undergraduates found the campus protests were one of four reasons mentioned for considering leaving the school:
The survey says four themes emerged including academic concerns, experiences of the protests during the fall of 2015, exclusion and hostility targeted at underrepresented groups on campus and general sense of belonging challenges with making friends and building community.
“With all of the protests here on campus last year, I did not feel safe on campus,” one student wrote (the survey was conducted in the fall of 2016).
“Their actions did untold damage to the reputation of the University and have hugely devalued my degree as a whole,” another student expressed.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that this year’s enrollment decline was smaller than last year’s drop. Even if enrollment stabilizes next year, it could still be a couple more years before enrollment approaches 2015 levels, if ever. This has still been a major blow to the school’s reputation as well as its bottom line.
A similar (but smaller) decline was seen at Evergreen State College this fall. With enrollment down about 5%, the college started the year with a $2.1 million budget deficit and an anticipated hiring freeze. There’s a lesson here for campus administrators: Don’t let a handful of far-left protesters take over campus or it will cost you.