The anticipation of low enrollment for the upcoming summer and fall semesters at Mineral Area College was brought to the attention of the community college’s board of trustees when it met in regular session April 13 in the boardroom on the school’s Park Hills campus.
In reporting the latest enrollment figures to the trustees, Dean of Students Jean Merrill-Doss minced no words about either the problem or the efforts that will be made to help boost school attendance.
“Good afternoon board members, summer enrollment is down about 53 students and 220 credit hours from where we were at this same time last year, so we are down about 8 percent for summer,” she said. “Fall, we’re down about 25 percent from where we were this time last year.
“We do have on the 24th we have our next Cards program. It’s in the evening. Typically, that program doesn’t fill and it’s full now. We’ve added a few more seats to get it up to 130 students. We’re 100 percent sure we will be down, but we’re going to do everything we can to turn over every stone and think outside the box for students we’re not reaching.
“I’m not sure yet if it’s continuing students that aren’t applying or students who have taken off a semester and haven’t come back. So we’re going to be looking at many different lists of students and looking at data and trying to make all the phone calls possible and to help some of those students hurdle those barriers that are keeping them from coming to school.”
Merrill-Doss also informed the trustees there will be an increased emphasis on retaining students who are already attending MAC.
“We will do a few more Cards programs through the end of June,” she said. “Then, beginning in July until school starts, Student Services advisors and a few other folks — including myself — will then take all advising appointments one-on-one with the students so we can spend a little bit more time talking to them … helping them build a schedule that’s more suitable to them … talking about financial aid … sending them to different resources if they need them.
“Sometimes at Cards if you’re a business advisor and you’ve got 10 students to see, you don’t get to spend a lot of time with them. So, we’re hoping this will be a trial for us this summer and give us more time to spend with students individually and through that give us a chance to build that retention piece from the time they enroll.”
As Missouri’s economy has improved, declining enrollment has increasingly become an issue for Mineral Area College, as well as other state community colleges. In an interview several years ago, MAC President Dr. Steve Kurtz explained that the sharp increase in enrollment MAC experienced eight or nine years ago was due to the nation’s economic tailspin beginning in 2008.
“Typically, when the economy isn’t doing well, we do well with enrollment,” he said in 2015. “We are seeing the opposite now that our economy is picking up. Our enrollment is down slightly this semester and it has to do with people in our area having more employment opportunities. During the Great Recession, those jobs that were typically for students were taken by folks who used to have full-time work.”
Now the college is faced with a double whammy as enrollment numbers are increasingly low and Gov. Eric Greitens has recommended deep cuts in the state’s new budget for institutions of higher learning in Missouri.
In other action, three members of the board uncontested in the April 4 election were sworn into office for a two-year term by outgoing Board President Scott Sikes. They are Subdistrict 2 Trustee Lisa Umfleet, Subdistrict 4 Trustee Harvey Faircloth and Subdistrict 4 Trustee Dr. Don VanHerck. Following the election, Subdistrict 3 Trustee Jerry Sullivan took over the meeting as board president.
The board approved the George K. Baum & Company and Gilmore & Bell Bond Counsel to prepare and come back to the trustees with a refinancing place for the school’s Series 2008 Certificates of Participation to lower interest costs.
Kurtz informed the trustees that MAC commencement will take place at 10:30 a.m. May 13. Commissioner of Higher Education Zora Mulligan will be the speaker. Central Methodist University commencement will be held at 11 a.m. May 20. U.S. Congressman Jason Smith, R-8th District, will be the speaker. Both ceremonies will be held in the Bob Sechrest Sr. Field House on MAC’s Park Hills campus.
The next board of trustees meeting is set for 2 p.m. May 11 in the boardroom.
“Fall, we’re down about 25 percent from where we were this time last year.” — Dean of Students Jean Merrill-Doss
Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or email@example.com