Murray State lags in the freshman enrollment battle

Story by Destinee Marking, Staff writer 

Universities across Kentucky are experiencing a decrease in freshman enrollment numbers, and Murray State is seeing its lowest enrollment rate in five years.

Fred Dietz, associate vice president of enrollment management, said Murray State is following national trends in terms of enrollment.

Murray State’s freshman enrollment dropped 3.93 percent from last fall. Since 2012, enrollment has steadily decreased, with the exception of academic year 2015-2016. From Fall 2015 to Fall 2016, freshman enrollment increased from 1,468 students to 1,502, marking a 2.32 percent increase.

During President Bob Davies’ State of the University address Nov. 14, he focused on the importance of recruiting quality students.  

“We must remain committed to attracting, admitting and enrolling students who have a high probability of being successful in our rigorous academic programs,” Davies said.  

Many factors are responsible for the national decline of incoming freshmen. Deitz said some of these factors include tuition, scholarship availability and a decrease in high school graduates.

“We are seeing in Kentucky, and in our region, more students choosing community college,” Dietz said.

At a time when community college tuition is cheaper, and sometimes even free, Dietz said university enrollment is going to decline.

Murray State is not the only institution in the Commonwealth witnessing a decrease in enrollment numbers. University of Kentucky and Northern Kentucky University are the only two public universities in the state with an increase in freshman enrollment.

Morehead University experienced almost a 22 percent decrease from 2012 to 2016. Kentucky State University decreased 20 percent in enrollment between 2012 and 2017. Since 2012, Murray State has experienced an approximate 11 percent decrease in enrollment. The University of Louisville did not respond to The News’ open records request for enrollment numbers.

To attract students concerned about tuition, Dietz said the university recently implemented a new scholarship for freshmen the Dean’s Scholarship. Incoming freshman beginning in 2018 who have a 3.0 GPA or higher and achieved a 21-23 on the ACT will be awarded this scholarship.

Another tactic the university is using to increase freshman enrollment, Dietz said, is sending out offers of admission quicker by making a change to the application process.

“We started this year something different that no school in the region is doing, in that we’re admitting students based on self-recorded grades and test scores,” Dietz said.

Now there is no need for high school counselors to send transcripts or ACT scores, and as a result, university officials are expecting the application process to be faster.

Davies said the new standards are already proving effective, as more applicants have applied to Murray State.

As fall 2018 applications are coming in, the university is already prepared to see an increase in freshman enrollment.

“We’ve admitted more students for the fall of 2018 now compared to this time last year, so that is encouraging,” Dietz said.

The impact of low enrollment is a loss of revenue, which takes a toll on the university’s budget. Dietz said this is why it is important the university works toward bringing in more freshmen and transfer students.

“This is not about becoming an exclusive and elitist university, rather admitting students who are able to be successful at Murray State,” Davies said. “We have attracted more applicants than ever before because of these standards, and as a result, have admitted more students. Our goal and focus now must be moving these students from admitted status to enrolled students.”

Although fall 2017 freshman enrollment was low, Dietz said the quality of the class is an indicator these students will stay and continue to positively affect the university’s total enrollment number.

“It really is a strong class, so that translates to a higher retention rate,” Dietz said.

Freshman enrollment fell under 1,500 students this year, but the Class of 2021 shows a commitment to academic excellence.  

The freshman class holds an average ACT score of 24.2, which is an increase from the fall 2016 and fall 2015 classes.

“Excellence in our new students- highest ACT average in recent history, highest percentage of students from the top tier of their respective high schools and the highest number of students admitted and enrolled in the Honors College,” Davies said.

This class also comprises of more students who were selected as valedictorians of their respective high schools.

Freshman valedictorians account for 6.2 percent of this year’s class, compared to 4.9 percent last year.  About 50 percent of this year’s class were also ranked in the top 25 percent of their graduating class, whereas only 48 percent of last year’s class ranked in the top of their class.

“Evidence of academic excellence is prevalent throughout with this fall’s institutional enrollment data,” Davies said in a news release. “Overall, but particularly with our recent freshman classes, we continue to see an increase in the quality of student who is choosing Murray State University to achieve their dreams and goals.”