After raucous protests last fall, the University of Missouri has “a dark cloud hanging over the institution—we can’t sugarcoat that,” vice chancellor of operations Gary Ward told faculty this week.
The university’s grave outlook became clearer Monday, as the data rolled in on freshman enrollment for the Fall 2016 semester, showing steep declines.
Compared to last year, 1,470 fewer students had paid their $300 enrollment fees by the May 1 deadline—and with cancellations rolling in over the weekend, the numbers may be even more grim, the local TV station KMIZ reports. That’s a drop of about 25% from last year’s freshman class of about 6,200.
Mizzou also reported a three-year low in grad-school applications, down 1,140 from two years ago. The number of new students shrunk even as the university has embarked on an aggressive effort to drum up interest in the school, using text messages and Skype and deploying more out-of-state recruiters.
Here’s how steep that drop is: Fox Business’s Clay Travis writes that “the only comparable undergraduate enrollment decline in recent decades that I can find at any major college or university is Tulane University the year after Hurricane Katrina.”
The steep dropoff in enrollment appears to directly traceable to the events of last fall. During October and November, the university found itself in the national spotlight after reports emerged of several racist incidents on campus. Protests erupted, forcing the cancellation of classes. In solidarity with a graduate student who went on a hunger strike, the university’s football team refused to play until the demands of one organization, #ConcernedStudent1950, were met. As the protests raged, a video went viral portraying one of the university’s communications professors, Melissa Click, calling for “muscle” against a student journalist covering the controversy.
The protestors ultimately ousted both the president and chancellor. But as Heat Street has reported, the fallout from the protests has been punishing. Donors and alumni have vowed to pull financial support, sports fans have declared that they will stop attending games, and parents and prospective students said they’d no longer consider Mizzou.
In addition to its abysmal enrollment figures, Mizzou seems also to be losing existing students. In a March letter to campus, the interim chancellor Hank Foley mentioned “retention of enrolled students” as part of the university’s shrinking student body, though he offered no statistics. The Office of Enrollment had not responded to Heat Street’s request for these numbers by deadline, though our exhaustive review of Mizzou correspondence showed several students were considered transferring out after the events of last fall.
The university’s declining enrollment, combined with some added expenses for new diversity initiatives, has left Mizzou with a $32.5 million shortfall, the Columbia Tribune reported recently. Overall, the university is bracing for a 5 percent cut across the budget over the next fiscal year.
Mizzou’s new pinch will literally change the campus’s landscape. In March, the university announced plans to accelerate the scheduled closure of two dorms. A month later, it announced the shuttering of two more residence halls, eliminating lodging for an additional 315 students.
Less than a week later, Mizzou also announced that it will cut at least 50 cleaning and maintenance jobs. The university is also considering the slashing as many as 11 additional such operational jobs over the summer.
Practically, these job cuts mean that faculty must take out their own trash, sidewalks will be trimmed only twice a year, tailgaters’ Saturday litter won’t be picked up until Monday morning, and snow removal will be slower next winter, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported.
The Operations Division isn’t the only department axing jobs. The university’s library system is also preparing for a $894,000 reduction in funding. Starting next semester, students will no longer enjoy 24-hour access to Ellis Library. Six of the eight library positions vacant at the end of this semester won’t be filled. The library is also considering how many part-time and student positions it will need to cut next year.
Additionally, the University will implement a hiring freeze, as well as a moratorium on raises for many staffers.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and Independent Women’s Forum.