JACKSON, Miss. — Enrollment this fall fell from an all-time high at Mississippi’s eight public universities and declined for the seventh straight year at the state’s 15 community colleges.
Preliminary counts released Friday show students decreasing 1.6 percent at universities and 0.9 percent at community colleges.
Jackson State University shrank 12.5 percent, the most among the universities. Spokeswoman Maxine Greenleaf said the school cut back on aid to students as the university deals with a financial crisis and purged students with overdue bills more quickly.
“The university is requiring payment earlier in the semester, which allows us to manage our resources more effectively,” President William Bynum said in a statement. “Also, JSU reduced institutionally funded scholarship offerings in order to stabilize these expenditures.”
Also seeing enrollment fall were the University of Mississippi, the Mississippi University for Women and the University of Southern Mississippi. Ole Miss dropped 470 students, or 1.9 percent, saying it’s trying to increase its share of in-state students and raise academic requirements for nonresidents.
Delta State University and Alcorn State University both saw their student bodies grow by 5 percent or more. Delta State President Bill LaForge said his school’s 5.3 percent growth was fueled by, among other things, better recruiting, keeping more students from dropping out and doubling the school’s number of international students in the last three years. Alcorn said its freshman class surged by 38 percent to a record level.
Universities have focused on recruiting students as a strategy to improve finances, especially among the smaller schools. The idea is to gain additional revenue by filling empty seats, with programs offering lower tuition rates to some nonresident students. Southern Miss, after becoming the latest university to enact across-the-board tuition breaks for out-of-state students, saw enrollment among such students grow more than 5 percent. Overall enrollment still shrank there, though.
Among the state’s four larger schools, Mississippi State University was the only one to see enrollment grow, hitting a new all-time high as it brought in more transfer students and more students from outside the state.
Community college enrollment began dropping after hitting an all-time high of almost 89,000 in 2010, as a better job market means fewer people are brushing up on job skills. This fall’s enrollment, dipping below 73,000 students, is 18 percent lower than peak. But overall declines are moderating, with student numbers falling by less than 1 percent for the second year in a row.
East Central Community College grew fastest among the five community colleges adding students, rising 10 percent. President Billy Stewart said a new women’s dormitory may have provided the biggest boost, but also credited better recruitment and retention.
“We had nowhere to go but up, because last year we had the greatest decline in enrollment,” Stewart said.
Enrollment shrank most at Itawamba Community College. New President Jay Allen called the decline “challenging.”
“For us, that’s a huge drop in enrollment,” Allen said, attributing some of the fall to low unemployment in northeast Mississippi, but also saying he was seeking measures to raise student numbers.
An earlier version of this story has been corrected to show East Central Community College grew fastest among community colleges adding students, not East Mississippi Community College.