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Enrollment Bragging By The University Of Missouri: What’s The Point?

August 29, 2008

I don’t understand why some higher education institutions do this, but this is the season for trumpeting enrollment increases. One of my alma maters, Missouri, did it a few days ago. Here is the release:

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Mizzou Tiger Roar Increases by Nearly 1,700 Voices
Enrollment records broken again
Aug. 25, 2008

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The roar at the University of Missouri will be significantly louder this year with a record number of new “tigers” prowling the campus. Today, the university welcomes a much anticipated record number of first-time freshmen to Mizzou. On the first day of classes, the number of freshmen rose to 5,812 students from 5,027 last year, an increase of 785 or 15.6 percent. MU also continued the record-setting streak with total enrollment reaching 29,761, an increase of 1,691 students from last year. This is the seventh straight year that the University has broken this record.

“We’re extremely excited about this coming year and are pleased to welcome these outstanding students to Mizzou,” said Ann Korschgen, vice provost for enrollment management. “They are great additions to the Mizzou family, and we look forward to witnessing their successes.”

Freshman African-American enrollment increased by 27.5 percent, representing the highest total in history. Hispanic enrollment also set a record with an increase of 29.7 percent. The number of students receiving the Curators’ awards is the highest in eight years, increasing by 8.8 percent.

“We are working to ensure that an MU education remains affordable to all students,” Korschgen said. “One example is through the Flagship Scholars Program, which awarded scholarships worth up to $15,000 to cover the cost of higher education for the first time this Fall. This significant assistance to our students is a result of our For All We Call Mizzou campaign. We’re looking forward to having many more of these scholars in the future.”

This year’s mean ACT score, a measure of the quality of this year’s freshman class, is 25.5. The state average ACT score is 21.6. The national average is 21.1.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Please see attached table. Official enrollment figures will be available after the 20th day of classes.

UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-COLUMBIA
FIRST DAY ENROLLMENT FIGURES 2008

Fall 2007 Fall 2008 Difference
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First-Time Freshmen 5,027 5,812* +15.6%
Graduate students 5,424 5,811* +7.1%
Curator Scholars 444 481 +8.3%
Mean ACT (freshman class) 25.5 25.5 No Change
Retention Rate 84.7% 85.2%* +0.5%
Total Enrollment 28,070 29,761* +6%
* indicates record figure

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What’s the point of all this? Let’s dissect it.

The headline makes it appear that Missouri celebrates mass education for its own sake—that the school merely wants to devour a larger market share of potential college applicants. Who cares if this is the seventh straight year of enrollment increases? I mean, who does the increase help? Right now it would seem that only the administrators at Mizzou and perhaps a few folks in Jefferson City care (e.g. increased tuition income).

The better strategy for this news would’ve been to subsume it in a story of substance. For instance, in the third paragraph—the middle of the press release—we are informed that African American enrollment increased 27.5% and Hispanics by 29.7%. This seems significant. This should’ve been bumped to paragraph two and perhaps been a part of the headline (i.e. “Mizzou Enrollments Reflect Missouri’s Increasing Diversity”).

Furthermore, by telling us that your first-year student ACT average is 25.5 and the state’s average is 21.6, you’re underscoring the fact that Mizzou is only for the “advantaged.” It’s been shown that environmental factors affect standardized test scores as much as one’s native intelligence. So it appears to the discerning reader that Mizzou is aspirational, trying to become an “elite” institution rather than educate its own state.

If Mizzou really wanted to prove its usefulness to the State of Missouri, it would forward Horatio Alger-like before-and-after stories of students. This would say to Missourians: Look what Mizzou can do for your sons and daughters.

Here’s my question for University of Missouri administrators: Are you trying to become a national player in higher education, or are you trying to provide an excellent college education to the greatest number of Missourians? Are you doing both well, or succeeding in just one? This press release gives a distinct impression of aspiration, but for whose good?

With this criticism in mind, how many, for example, within your increased student cohort hail from Missouri? How does your “Flagship Scholars Program” assist Missourians within the context of increased—indeed record—enrollments?

Mizzou needs to do a better job of telling its story—of balancing aspirations of excellence with service toward Missourians. This press release is basically news for other higher education officials across the land. – TL

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One Comment
  1. I also suspect there won't be a follow-up ad in four years on retention or four-year graduation rates.

    Like

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