Story by Teddy Martin, Contributing writer
Murray State has 400 fewer students on campus than last fall, according to preliminary enrollment numbers.
The 10,488 students who reported to campus represent a 3 percent drop from last year’s population of 10,829.
“The decrease in enrollment can be attributed to many factors,” said Fred Dietz, associate vice president of enrollment services.
“We saw an increase in new transfer students for the fall 2014 semester due to the closing of Mid-Continent University,” he said. “That closing added approximately 100 to 120 students to [Murray State]. We did not have that for this fall 2015 semester, so we are seeing a drop in new transfer students.”
Dietz said Murray State is seeing a slight drop in new freshmen and believes this can be attributed to a declining high school population in Western Kentucky and the addition of the Tennessee Promise Program.
The Tennessee Promise Program is both a scholarship and mentoring program focused on increasing the number of students that attend college in Tennessee. It provides students a last-dollar scholarship, meaning the scholarship will cover tuition and fees not covered by the Pell grant, the HOPE scholarship or state student assistance funds.
Dietz said the University also saw a slight decrease in international numbers due to some graduate programs capping enrollment.
“In essence, we had no more space and could not accommodate new international students in certain international graduate programs. Additionally, we had fewer international exchange students come to [Murray State],” he said.
Dietz said during this time the government of Brazil ended sponsorship of students studying in the U.S., which resulted in fewer Brazilian students attending Murray State.
While retention remained fairly consistent to previous years, Murray State is seeing a drop in returning freshmen and sophomore students. Typically, the leading causes for students not returning are due to financial issues as well as personal issues.
However, enrollment numbers aren’t the only change that will effect campus because admission standards will be changed for the fall 2016 entering class.
The previous standards require incoming freshmen to have a minimum of an 18 composite score on their ACT in addition to a 3.0 GPA, whereas the new standards will be based on four tiers. The tiers for admission will begin with an ACT requirement of 18. The top tier will include ACT scores of 23 or higher.
Shannon Davis, sophomore from Paris, Tennessee, said raising admission standards will likely send admission numbers plummeting.
“I think that sometimes GPA and test scores don’t adequately measure intelligence. I think that standardized testing is a thing of the past,” she said. “People are intelligent, but that isn’t reflected in standardized testing.”
Davis also said it might not be fair to those who have learning disabilities or test anxiety. She said she understood the University was trying to be more prestigious by raising the test score standards.
“I think they should keep the admission standards,” Davis said. “But I think they should look into other avenues of testing for students who don’t do well with testing but have a lot to offer their field of interest.”
While some students are opposed to the standards, Justin Carman, a prospective student, said students would have to work harder if they wanted to come to Murray State.
“I think we’re raising our academic standards because we want to prepare students for the incoming workload,” he said. “It ought to help the University as a whole because you have to watch out for that dropout rate. Kids come in, with minimum grades, barely scraping by, and then they can’t handle the workload and drop out.”
The University has a large pool to draw from when it comes to admissions. It enrolls students from 16 foreign countries, 25 states and about 72 Kentucky counties. However, dropout rates are an ever-present obstacle to universities.
As of 2013, Murray State had a graduation rate of about 53 percent, according to a survey by the Kentuckian Counsel for Postsecondary Education. This was recorded for six-year graduates of Murray State. The rate is about 47 percent for five-year graduates and 29 percent for four-year graduates of Murray State.
What this means is 53 percent of Murray’s graduates come out of the University with a six-year degree, 47 percent graduate with a five year degree and 29 percent of them graduate with a four year-bachelor degree.
“There is a silver lining,” Dietz said. “We saw more new first time freshmen attending Murray State from the 18 county service region than last year. This is encouraging as part of the University mission is to serve the 18 county region and students from these counties. Additionally, we saw an overall increase in returning junior and seniors students attending [Murray State].”
Dietz said he hopes there will not be an impact on the new freshmen.
“In essence, we will seek to increase our applicant pool to make more offers of admission to students who are high achieving,” he said.