Only three of Mississippi’s eight public universities saw increased enrollment for fall 2019 as statewide enrollment numbers slightly declined from 2018.
Mississippi State University, Mississippi University for Women and Delta State University were the trio that increased enrollment numbers.
Mississippi State University is the only public university in the state to increase enrollment for each of the past five years. Enrollment has increased by 10.37% since 2014 – that’s an additional 2,088 students on campus. Enrollment increased by 1.1% in fall 2019, an addition of 252 students.
MSU President Mark Keenum told the Daily Journal that steady growth is a result of the university providing an affordable quality education and a strong sense of diversity and inclusion as part of the overall student experience.
“For many, the ability to attend a first-class research university in a relatively small town is a strong draw,” Keenum said. “We are the No. 1 college choice for Mississippi high school graduates, accounting for 64% of our overall student body.”
If Mississippi State’s upward trend continues, the university is on track to have the highest student enrollment numbers in Mississippi for the first time since 2010, eclipsing Ole Miss.
“Frankly, Mississippi State has already achieved an undeniable status as Mississippi’s leading university and our momentum over the last five years underscores that. Our current trajectory as an institution is strong and dynamic,” Keenum said. “It’s no secret that our aspirations are to be a regionally, nationally, and on many fronts globally relevant research university.”
He added that MSU is the state’s “only National Science Foundation Top 100 university” and that the university accounts for more than half of all the research and development expenditures in Mississippi.
Meanwhile, The W saw the largest fall 2019 enrollment increase, up 3.8% from 2018. The school added 102 new students, bringing its total to 2,813 enrolled in fall 2019.
President Nora Miller attributes that jump to pathways partnerships with community colleges, adding new programs and redesigning others and a quality NCAA Division III athletics program
“We have reached out to community colleges making sure that we have affiliation agreements and pathways for students to know exactly what courses will transfer into us and how they can align that and seamlessly come and finish their baccalaureate degree,” Miller said. “We’re meeting them where they are.”
The size and intimacy of the 2,813-student university is another draw for students who might feel overwhelmed at a school of 20,000 or worry that they might not have an opportunity to pursue leadership roles in campus groups, Miller said. She added that The W’s student population is 37% African American, which is on par with the overall state population, so “everyone can feel comfortable” on campus.
Miller said increasing enrollment over the next few years will be difficult for all universities because there are fewer 18 to 22-year-olds than in previous generations.
“We’re going to have to look at opportunities for adult learners, for people who are wanting to retool themselves for a second career,” Miller said. “We’re all going to be scrambling for students and we hope that we continue to increase but it’s going to require some creativity.”
The W has eliminated additional out-of-state tuition which encourages more out-of-state students to attend, especially with the school’s close proximity to Alabama.
Delta State University has also waived higher tuition for out-of-state students, which has helped to increase enrollment.
DSU’s enrollment increased by 1.2% from 2018 to 2019, an addition of 45 students. That brings the total campus enrollment to 3,761.
Vice President for Student Affairs Vernell Bennett said DSU has “the best of both worlds.”
“We have the types of high-quality signature programs, networking opportunities, academic resources and expert guidance of distinguished faculty that you’d find at a larger institution,” Bennett said. “But we also have the nurturing community, family atmosphere and personal support systems that you’d find at a smaller institution. It’s the perfect combination.”
Students are more than a number at DSU, Bennett said, and university administrators – including President William LaForge – have an open-door policy for students.
Bennett said DSU plans to continue building on recruitment collaborations with deans, chairs and faculty, as well as expanding relationships with counselors and administrators at high schools throughout the state.
The Statesman Club program, which brings high school juniors and seniors and community college students to campus for monthly events, will also be an important part of the university’s outreach.