While Missouri State University’s overall annual enrollment numbers dropped by 4.6% this year, there are departments within the university working to improve their own enrollment numbers.
Religious Studies Department Head Stephen Berkwitz said enrollment tends to be cyclical. But, in recent years enrollment has gone down, according to Berkwitz.
Berkwitz said the current generation of students are generally choosing more clearly outlined career paths, like mathematics or education, whereas humanities courses focus more on skills that can be applied to a broad range of fields.
Berkwitz said this shift is unfortunate because students may be hindering their ability to change fields or adapt to new challenges in their lives if their work in college is too narrowly focused.
“There’s kind of a tradeoff,” Berkwitz said, “You gain clarity in terms of knowing what job you’re going into, but it might make it harder to change careers later on.”
Berkwitz said their department has increased its online offerings to improve enrollment.
“Those online courses seem to be popular with at least some students,” Berkwitz said.
Students now can receive a minor in religious studies completely online.
The Department of Religious Studies is a few years away from allowing students to receive a major in religious studies completely online, Berkwitz said.
The department is now offering courses focusing on health and religion.
“We’re making efforts to try and partner with other units on campus and trying to identify what religious studies can offer to students in other fields,” Berkwitz said.
While some departments have lost numbers over the years, some have gone through a period of growth.
Criminology and Criminal Justice Department Head Brett Garland said their headcount for fall 2019 increased by a little over 2%. During the past three years, Garland said they have had modest increases for enrollment every fall.
Garland said the department faced the challenge of becoming a recognized department later than other universities because they became a complete department around 2011, while other universities similar in size to MSU have had criminology and criminal justice departments since the ’70s and ’80s.
“We’re facing a name recognition challenge,” Garland said. “One of the ways we have been addressing this challenge is to reach out to the high school counselors around Missouri.”
Garland said MSU’s Criminology and Criminal Justice department offers a variety of courses, which makes it unique.
Some of the courses offered include studies in forensics, criminal profiling and terrorism.
Garland said some of their biggest growth has been in online enrollment. “We have several students who are online who are nearby and choose to take our online courses because it provides a lot more flexibility,” Garland said.
There are some departments facing lower numbers due to demographic changes.
Biology Department Head Alicia Mathis said after at least a decade of substantial growth in their department, enrollment is down this year.
The number of undergraduate and graduate students enrolled as biology majors decreased by 7% between 2018 and 2019, Mathis said.
Mathis said their enrollment decrease could be due to demographics. She said there are fewer graduating students and fewer students attending community colleges.
“This trend has been true for several years, but our efforts at recruitment and retention have helped to delay the effects of the declining pool,” Mathis said.
Mathis said part of their focus is on outreach to future students.
For example, Mathis said the biology department sends representatives to various university-sponsored recruitment events and visits individually with high school students to give them a tour of the department.
The biology department also focuses on building a strong community through small lab sections.
Mathis said they want to give students the resources they need to succeed.
“We want our students to know that when they leave MSU, they have the background to be leaders in their fields,” Mathis said.
MSU is focusing on stabilizing their enrollment numbers by expanding non-traditional course offerings and creating partnerships with other colleges to recruit prospective students, according to an Aug. 26 Administrative Council meeting report.
MSU anticipates another enrollment drop for the 2020-2021 school year.