A season of unrest at the University of Missouri has taken a toll on the school’s image both in and out of state, leading to a significant decline in projected enrollment figures for incoming freshmen. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the university expects to welcome roughly 900 fewer incoming students in the fall of 2016 than it did in 2015.
Friction that began when graduate students objected to losing benefits worsened as some legislators expressed anger at the university’s connections to Planned Parenthood. Administrators say matters worsened after a series of racist incidents on campus sparked student protests that drew national attention and toppled the school’s leadership, while injecting the university into the very center of a national debate over political correctness.
Mizzou’s director of admissions Barbara Rupp told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the school's reputation has been particularly hurt among out-of-state students, from whom deposits toward tuition are down 25 percent, as the university has become a national symbol for strained race relations and what some see as political correctness gone out of control.
“Because those students are geographically removed from the campus, they don’t really have a sense of what’s going on and they are relying on what they are seeing and hearing in the media,” Rupp said. “And it’s not particularly positive.”
University president Timothy M. Wolf stepped down facing student protests over what critics described as an indifferent response to a spate of racist incidents on campus. A video of Assistant Professor Melissa Click attempting to intimidate a student journalist covering the protests became a viral sensation and a touchstone in the political correctness debate.
Administrators note that a decline in enrollment has been projected for several years, due to smaller graduating classes in area high schools, but that recent discord has made the situation worse. Applications for freshmen totaled 19,318 for the fall of 2015, and have been estimated at 18,377 for students who would enter in the fall of 2016.