There’s no doubt that our alumni took notice when MU announced our first-day enrollment numbers last month.
Naturally, it is concerning that overall enrollment fell by 2,200 students and that our freshman class is the smallest since 2006. Many weren’t surprised, given what occurred on campus last fall. Nonetheless, the enrollment numbers were sobering.
Since the spring, however, I have been keenly interested in a different number: our retention rate, which measures how many students return to campus after their freshman year. Even though new student recruitment was tough sledding after our time in the national spotlight, it’s the retention rate that tells the real story.
In many ways, the retention rate speaks directly to the alumni concerns we fielded about the campus experience.
In January, our semester-to-semester retention rate was steady, bucking the prediction of many who believed that Mizzou was in a spiral.
In August, I was pleased to see the trend held when almost 86% of freshman returned to campus for the fall semester — the third highest retention rate in Mizzou’s history. Those numbers are not an accident; many campus colleagues have been working on it for several years. Put simply, the students who were on campus during the unrest last fall stayed at Mizzou in record numbers.
Students who experienced last fall firsthand chose to stay, while students influenced by MU’s outside perception chose to go elsewhere. The enrollment drop largely reflected prospective students who decided not to come to Mizzou (i.e. a freshman class of 4,800 versus 6,100).
Mizzou has work to do to recruit its next freshman class, and battling perceptions of what happened on campus won’t be easy. Thankfully, a strong retention rate is a solid indicator that the Mizzou Experience is still alive and well.
Todd McCubbin, MEd ’95
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