CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — Freshman enrollment at Southeast Missouri State University is up 10 percent this year compared to 2015.

The overall enrollment at the school has increased by just more than 1 percent, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/2c2TeF0 ) reports.

The school’s total enrollment is 11,536. Classes at the Cape Girardeau campus started last week.

Officials say the school has seen a 24 percent increase in African-American students and a more than 30 percent increase in Hispanic students compared to last fall.

University president Carlos Vargas calls the increase a result of “the perfect storm,” of a major rebranding effort, innovative teaching and increased target marketing to areas like St. Louis and parts of Illinois.

Administrators hired a marketing company to help with mailers for prospective students. The school also unveiled new signs, literature and online marketing last year.

Deborah Below, vice president for enrollment and dean of students at SEMO, said the rebranding effort has helped instill school pride. According to Below, the school was seeing an increase in applications by September of last year.

“Students latched on to it,” Below said. “We have the highest retention rate for first-year students ever because of institutional pride.”

Vargas said the university is focused on innovation, placing emphasis on cybersecurity and education, along with new degrees in unmanned aircraft systems and geographic information science.

Vargas became the school’s president in July 2015. He has a doctorate in physics and aerospace science from the University of Michigan.

“We hear from industries that they want to have talent that’s developed here, and that they find that very often when they import someone from another region, they don’t stay long,” Vargas said.

Vargas is confident in the direction the school is taking and hopes to continue in that positive direction next year.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com