University and community college enrollment falls slightly

JACKSON, Miss. — Enrollment fell at Mississippi’s eight public universities and its 15 community colleges this fall, with universities declining for a second year from an all-time record in 2016. Community colleges fell for the eighth year in a row.

Preliminary counts released Thursday show students decreasing 1 percent at universities to about 81,000 students and 1 percent at community colleges to about 72,000 students.

Jackson State University said enrollment fell nearly 10 percent, the most among four universities where the number of students is declining. It’s the second year of steep declines at Jackson State after a financial crisis led the school to cut back on student financial aid, and the smallest enrollment there since 2003.

Spokesman L.A. Warren said the university’s policy of no longer allowing students with unpaid bills to register for a new term without a payment plan is cutting into enrollment, He also said professors are verifying whether pre-registered students are attending class before the university submits attendance numbers.

“As stated previously, our next three years will be difficult as we rebound from our current financial crisis,” President William Bynum said in a statement.

Also seeing enrollment fall were Delta State University, the University of Mississippi and the Mississippi University for Women.

Like most universities, Ole Miss said it continues to focus on retaining students. The university reports 42 percent of students are from outside Mississippi.

The University of Southern Mississippi grew 1.8 percent, the most among four universities that added students. The university said overall enrollment is the largest since 2014. Southern Mississippi s still well short of its all-time peak enrollment of more than 16,000 in 2011. However, the university broke what had been a downward trend since then, attributing it to enrolling more than 2,100 full-time freshmen, a 35 percent increase over just two years ago. The university, which like other Mississippi institutions has been courting out-of-state students with tuition breaks, said a larger number of non-resident students enrolled. The idea is to gain additional revenue by filling empty seats, improving finances.

Also seeing enrollment increase were Alcorn State University, Mississippi State University and Mississippi Valley State University.

Mississippi State’s enrollment hit an all-time high, which the university said was driven both by a larger freshman class and an all-time high in transfer students. The share of out-of-state students rose to 35 percent.

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 is 19 percent lower than peak. But overall declines are moderating, with student numbers falling only slightly for the third year in a row.

Mississippi Delta Community College grew fastest among the eight community colleges that added students. Enrollment shrank by the largest percentage at Meridian Community College.