The Fall 2018 enrollment census report revealed what many expected: Enrollment at UCM is down markedly from where it was in Fall 2015 and Fall 2016.
The report came out in October and was presented to the Board of Governors Oct. 26. The total enrollment is 11,487, the lowest it has been since 2010. The total number of credit hours in which students are enrolled is lower than it has been since 2009.
Karen Goos, interim vice provost for enrollment management, said there are two main factors in this decline. One is the decrease in graduate international students over the last three years because of changes in national and international policy.
The other is the fact the university is fulfilling its mission regarding graduation rates.
“When we look at our undergraduate enrollment, we see good news,” Goos said. “While it doesn’t help the universities overall net revenue, more students are graduating on time in four years”
According to the data presented to the Board of Governors, the graduation rate for four-year freshmen has increased 3.8 percent in four years. Transfer three-year graduation rates have increased 7.4 percent in five years. And the number of undergraduate degrees awarded by the university has increased every year over a 10-year period from the 2008-09 academic year and peaking in the 2017-18 academic year at 2,019 undergraduate degrees awarded.
Coupled with the graduation rate is the default rate. Goos said the default rate measures how many students default on student loans after they leave a university and is monitored by the federal government to make sure students aren’t accruing debt without the ability to repay it.
The default rates for the last three years have been below both the state and national average. The three-year default rate from fiscal years 2015-18 for UCM is 8.4 percent; the average in Missouri was 10.3 percent and the national average was 10.8 percent.
Goos said default rates are an indicator of the value of a degree from an institution, and having a lower-than-average default rate shows a UCM graduate’s ability to use their degree to enter a career and repay their loans.
“Many students are likely going to have to take out a loan to go to school” she said. “Our job is to ensure students are well positioned and to make sure the investment that you made in yourself is going to be worthwhile.”
There are two things on the horizon at which the university is looking and for which it is planning.
The number of graduating high school seniors is decreasing and the birth rate in the state of Missouri is projected to decrease.
According to projections from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, there will be a sharp decline in graduating high school seniors beginning in 2026 that isn’t expected to recover until 2031.
This means the pool from which to recruit students is getting smaller and will probably stay that way for the next decade.
Goos said the university is forming a Strategic Enrollment Management Committee to look at ways to appeal to other markets and design programs that will meet the needs of those markets. For example, she said there may be classes designed to be shorter than the traditional 16-weeks aimed at working adults with families. UCM President Roger Best talked about the need to explore alternative education opportunities for nontraditional students in his State of the University Address in August.
“Having robust enrollment allows us to continue to offer the level of programs, services and experiences that we believe are important and demanded by students,” Best said. “I believe we offer great programs and education, and our strategy is ensuring our prospective students/learners are aware of the great opportunities we currently provide while developing new opportunities that attract students not currently considering UCM.”