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Education news and issues in the Ozarks.

Analyzing the Enrollment Trend: Does MSU Need a New Residence Hall?

Scott Harvey
Hammons House, one of MSU's traditional residence halls.

While enrollment of first-year students at Missouri State University has been on an upward trend, it could mean expanding housing services as capacity meets or exceeds needs.

President Clif Smart says a feasibility study is underway to determine the need for a new “traditional style” residence hall.

“If you look back a few years ago our freshmen class; we had a few less than 2,500. And this last year we were about 3,150. In the fall we anticipate being well over 3,200. So we’ve got a growth of about 750 freshmen in the last three years,” says Smart.

The campus in Springfield currently has roughly 3,500 traditional residence hall rooms and another 600 apartment style rooms. The university requires incoming freshmen to reside on campus except in the following circumstances: A student’s home residence is within 60 miles of Springfield, they have children and/or are over the age of 25.

When you factor sophomore students returning to on-campus units, this fall is anticipated to mark the third straight year MSU will be overbooked, says Smart. When this occurs, officials will convert various spaces such as study or commons areas into dorm rooms, or have students paired with Resident Assistants, who typically get a unit to themselves.  

Smart says determining the need for a new residence hall requires careful analysis.

“On the one hand there’s risk that if you build and let’s say we add 350 beds; well if those aren’t full then your judgement’s been incorrect and now you’re going to be subsidizing that [cost of the facility] somehow and have less money to plug back into facilities.”

On the other hand, there’s risk in keeping the status quo. Smart says lacking quality housing essentially limits growth.

He notes the recent construction of many apartment style units adjacent to campus has some cons but mainly the impact has been positive. While it’s lured some students away from returning to on-campus housing, that has freed up more space for freshmen students, says Smart. The new off campus units have also cleaned up some of the once blighted neighborhoods near MSU. Plus, since many of these new housing options are close to campus, students are walking to class or taking a shuttle, reducing parking congestion.

“And just like when freshmen are living on campus and have the opportunity to be engaged in so many things, well that’s also true of upper classmen [who live close by].”  

With those new apartment style housing options, that “market has been taken care of,” says Smart. It’s why MSU is exploring a new traditional style residence hall, which it hasn’t built since the early 1990s. He says a new facility would make the school more competitive with other universities.

“Central Missouri, University of Missouri, SEMO [Southeast Missouri State], have all built new traditional residence halls in the last five years.”

Early projections put the cost to bond out construction of a new residence hall at around $25 million plus, according to Smart. A decision isn’t expected until later this year. If officials determine a new residence hall is needed, it likely would have an open date of fall 2019.

Above, hear the entire conversation with President Clif Smart, part of our monthly program Engaging the Community.