Biggest Buzzkill: Effects of low enrollment

MU’s struggle to attract freshmen has led to budget shortages and closed residence halls.
Laws and Lathrop halls stand on Tiger Avenue on March 15. The halls will not house any residents next year in the wake of decreasing enrollment. They were the cheapest options for housing through the Department of Residential Life.

When word spread in March about MU’s budget crisis, the prognosis was grim.

How would the university make up a $32 million deficit? Answer: Cutting 5 percent from all departments and instituting a hiring freeze.

In the past three months, the outlook hasn’t improved. Since interim Chancellor Hank Foley’s announcement, the MU community has had a steady stream of bad news on the budget front.

The budget issues stemmed from a low enrollment. Officials are expecting the incoming class to be down by 1,500 students, a decrease of 24 percent from the previous year. Foley told Faculty Council at a recent meeting that applications might be down and “retention may take a hit as well.”

The low enrollment has hit the Department of Residential Life particularly hard. Four residence halls will most likely stand empty next year, which leaves the student staff in those buildings scrambling for jobs and housing. The department has already decided to close Laws and Lathrop halls for the 2016–17 school year, with Laws Hall being permanently closed earlier than expected before its 2017 planned demolition. Excellence and Respect halls will also not be opened if enrollment stays at its projected rate. These closures will save the department an estimated $200,000, a substantial amount when losing more than 1,000 paying residents.

The full effect of the budget cuts won’t be known until around the end of May. Yet some departments have announced their solutions early.

MU Operations will be lowering its levels of service, not cleaning up Saturday football game trash until Mondays and requiring faculty to empty their own trash from their offices.

The Student Health Center will no longer be offering students free flu shots, and the Stressbusters program, which provides free back rubs to students, will be eliminated, the Columbia Missourian reported.

MU Libraries, already hurting from the failure of the library student fee, is reducing its staff, collections and hours.

Several departments are either laying people off or not filing positions.

MU is already fighting an uphill battle trying to fund new diversity initiatives to improve the campus climate. With a large deficit in funds and low enrollment, making changes to campus is only going to be more challenging.

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