The University of Mississippi has hired four new regional admissions counselors to recruit more out-of-state applicants after overall enrollment dipped slightly this fall.
This year, 23,780 students enrolled on all University of Mississippi campuses after an all-time record of 24,250 in 2016. There were 3,697 new freshmen this year, while last year, there were 3,984.
Director of admissions Whitman Smith said the cause for the drop in applications is unclear, but that this year, Ole Miss has brought on recruiters in Florida, Georgia and the Washington D.C./Virginia area and added an additional recruiter in Texas. Previously, the university only had employed one out-of-state recruiter, and they were based in Texas. Smith said these recruiters live in the area where they recruit.
“We’ve always had regionally based Mississippi people — two on the Gulf Coast and two in Jackson — but to go in one year from one out-of-state recruiter to four is a huge change,” Smith said.
Smith added that Ole Miss has had always had consistent growth in applications, so much so that it started to tighten out-of-state admissions requirements in 2011. This year, out-of-state students comprise 41 percent of the student body.
“We finally started to see what we wanted to see, and that was a slight leveling off of out-of-state applications,” Smith said. “That was primarily because we just couldn’t offer all our students a place to live or a place to eat and a place to park.”
In 2016, there were 9,397 out-of-state students, including 2,326 from Texas, 2,159 from Georgia, 1,288 from Florida and 517 from Virginia.
Smith said in-state applications had been “remarkably consistent” over the last 20 years, but they are now at a stand-still.
“Mississippi does not show a lot of potential growth in high school graduates over the next several years, so it just made sense to go to large population centers with more high school graduates,” associate director of admissions Jody Lowe said.
Mississippi’s graduation rate is 82.3 percent, which is slightly under the national graduation rate of 83.2 percent. Lowe said the presence of strong community colleges and the abundance of universities create “fierce competition” for the students who are graduating.
“You’re just not going to grow your freshman class solely from Mississippi, given our scenario, so we’re going to have to go out of state,” Lowe said.
While Smith said they are emphasizing out-of-state recruiting, he is still passionate about recruiting Mississippi students.
“We care about all students, and we desperately care about our Mississippi students, but the population of Mississippi students (who are applying for college) is stagnant,” Smith said.
Recruiters were hired to cover areas that have a high number of potential applicants, and Lowe said the hope is that having additional out-of-state recruiters will garner a new increase in out-of-state applications.
Lyle Morris, who was hired in February 2017, is an Atlanta-based recruiter who said living in the area he covers has eliminated “constraints of time and travel, going back and forth to Oxford.”
“It allows me to attend college fairs and events, which allows more exposure to prospective students,” he said. “I also cover South Carolina, and in addition to recruiting, I meet parents and students and help work out problems that may arise, and it’s just easier to do that in person instead of email.”
Lowe said the program is hopeful this new strategy will increase out-of-state applications.
“While we’re not sold that it’s going to happen this first year — you know it may take a few years to grow our population — we’re convinced it will happen as we make a commitment to out of state more and more,” Lowe said.
Smith summed up the strategy in a familiar analogy.
“If you want to catch fish, go where the fish are — and the fish are outside of Mississippi,” Smith said. “The fish are in Dallas. The fish are in Atlanta. The fish are in Houston or Memphis or St. Louis.”