USM enrollment down, focus on "quality students"

Enrollment is down for several universities across the state.
Enrollment is down for several universities across the state.

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Enrollment is down for several universities across the state.

The University of Southern Mississippi saw a 6.9% decrease in enrollment for the 2013 school year, which is a loss of 1,143 students.

"We've renewed a focus on quality students," says Chief Communication Officer Jim Coll.

Quality students, Coll says, are those like the ones in the honors college, which has its highest enrollment yet with 178 students and an average ACT score of 30.

Another factor in the drop is the university's decision to cut off late registration to an earlier date, according to Coll.

"What we've noticed is that students that tend to register late were not as prepared as the students who were registering early," says Coll. "It's that focus on quality students, and we feel like, in four years, that the result is going to be a stronger institution."

According to numbers provided by the university, major groups of students are not enrolling. When looking at student type, the percentage of students who are readmitted to Southern Miss dropped by 12.69%.  Those students who return are down 2.66%, or 232 students. Additionally, the in-state population of students took a major hit with a decrease of 1,332 students, or 9.59%. However, the out-of-state students increased by over 5%.

When asked if last year's 0-12 football record had an effect on fewer students enrolling at Southern Miss, Coll said there's nothing that points directly to that being a reason.

"Certainly there are studies that tell you nationally that that does have an effect," says Coll. "But students aren't telling us when they don't come that that's not why they're coming."

In USM President Dr. Rodney Bennett's first interview with Hattiesburg media, he said the following about his focus on student enrollment at USM:

"I'm really interested in working on increasing the student body, but also not just for the sake of more students, but higher quality students, and I really would like to move Southern Miss to a place where it becomes the institution of choice for high achieving students across the state and certainly in the southeastern region."

The University of Southern Mississippi enrolled 15,623 students for the 2013 school year. This number is compared to last year's enrollment, which was 16,468, according to the Institutions of Higher Learning.

Overall, the state of Mississippi saw an enrollment decrease of 0.6%, or 490 students, which is the first time in 20 years for this number to go down.

"While the decrease system-wide is small," says Commission of Higher Education Dr. Hank Bounds, "it does demonstrate that the changes in the Pell Grant program are having an impact on the decisions students are making."

The other four universities that saw a drop in enrollment are Alcorn State University (0.6%/23), Mississippi State University (1%/204), Mississippi University for Women (0.6%/15) and Mississippi Valley State University (8.1%/200).

Three universities saw an increase in enrollment for 2013: Delta State University (0.5%/22), Jackson State University (3.6%/315) and the University of Mississippi (3.5%/758). The breakdown between Ole Miss and their medical school is as follows: 3.4% or 632 at UM and 4.6% or 126 at the UMMC.

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