Missouri State University is expecting one to two percent more students on the Springfield campus by the official census date in September, marking another year of growth for the school.
Days before the start of fall classes, President Clif Smart told KSMU the slight uptick is thanks to new students and those enrolled in graduate courses.
“First time, new to college numbers are very good. We think we’ll be over 3,200. That’ll be the biggest class we’ve had in a long time and a third solid freshmen class in a row. Our graduate student numbers are up. And so we think we’ll be up two to three hundred students,” he says.
Smart notes the figure could be higher had it not been for decreases in other categories.
He says fewer transfer students is by in large a reflection of a stronger workforce, meaning less students enrolling in community college and therefore not as many transferring to a four-year school.
A Welcoming University
A dip in international student enrollment, however, he says is slightly troubling. Once final numbers are in, Smart says it could be 100 less than last year.
“Parents of international students are no different than parents of students that live in Springfield or Monett or St. Louis. The number one concern is they want their kids to be safe and they want them to feel welcome and have a great college experience. We have challenges in the country now and some of that welcoming American spirit is a little bit in question if we track the news.”
Smart acknowledged that international students have other choices of schools in countries other than the United States, but anticipates the numbers will stabilize before long and grow again.
In his blog earlier this week, citing the NAACP’s recent travel advisory for Missouri and last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the president sought to ease any discomfort among campus community members.
“Inclusion is one of our core values at Missouri State University, and we seek to lead Springfield and the state in our commitment to inclusivity. We have over 3,000 underrepresented students and approximately 1,700 international students. We are committed to providing an environment in which all can thrive educationally and professionally,” the statement read.
Smart later reiterated to KSMU that MSU students represent a range of beliefs and backgrounds, and everyone needs to feel welcome.
“I think by in large we do a good job of that. I think one of the reasons we’re growing is our people. Our people are friendly, they care about our students, they go out of their way to help them. And we just wanna make sure that that’s true no matter what their political or religious backgrounds are.”
Not just will MSU seek to rebound with its international student population, but grow strong performing categories. But what to do when certain areas are nearly maxed out?
“We’re pretty close to being capped at 3,200 freshmen in a class because of our residence hall limitations. We have about 4,100 beds and several hundred of those are apartment style. So if we’re gonna continue to grow – and for the third or fourth year in a row we’re in overflow housing – we’ve gotta add space.”
The school is currently examining plans for a new residence hall with 400 plus beds, which also includes 300 parking spaces and a dining facility.
“This is a project that will pay for itself,” says Smart. “It doesn’t take any money out of the operating budget for salaries or hires. The students that live there pay for that. We think we can do it less expensively by working with the private developer than if we did it ourselves.”
The Board of Governors will get an update on the plans in October and decide whether to move forward.
As MSU seeks continued growth, Smart acknowledges there could eventually be limitations to doing so. He says the school’s growth has mainly come by way of increasing market share and adding programs.
“At some point funding doesn’t allow you to do that. As you add students you also have to add staff and you have to add faculty and you have to have more classes. Clearly in a situation of decreasing state funding, which we anticipate will be with us for several years, you have to evaluate that.”
During its board retreat this summer, Smart says officials began discussing what a sustainable financial model should look like. The topic will continue to be a focus moving forward.