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Total enrollment rises at Mississippi public universities

Enrollment at Mississippi’s eight public universities has gone up this fall by the largest percentage since 2011, driven by growth at three of the system’s four largest universities.

Total enrollment hit an all-time high of 81,132, according to preliminary figures released Thursday by the College Board.

Students flocked to Mississippi’s universities during the recession, trying to improve their job credentials. The number of students fell as the economy improved, but has resumed rising. Overall university enrollment is 17 percent higher than it was 10 years, ago, which Higher Education Commissioner Glenn Boyce said was a positive for the state, where the number of college-educated residents has long trailed national averages.

“They are preparing to be the next generation of teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, entrepreneurs and leaders of our state,” Boyce said in a statement. “We also know that they will earn more and make a significant difference in moving Mississippi’s economy forward.”

Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, Mississippi Valley State University and the University of Mississippi all saw enrollment rise more than 3 percent.

Those increases outweighed decreases at Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Mississippi University for Women and the University of Southern Mississippi.

Though there are exceptions, the split displays a widening divide between Mississippi’s four larger institutions, which have larger graduate programs and regional or national ambitions, and the four smaller universities, which are recruiting students furiously just to keep enrollment from shrinking.

The number of students at Ole Miss, including the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, has climbed for 21 straight years, rising close to 24,000. The university said it has the largest freshman class ever, and that average ACT scores and high school grade point averages also hit records.

“We are attracting more students who are well-prepared to enter college,” acting Provost Noel Wilkin said in a statement. “At the same time, we are investing in programs to help students to be successful.”

MSU, which had seen enrollment fall since 2011, rebounded to a new high, also aided by its largest-ever freshman class.

JSU Provost James Renick said he was “delighted” by a third year of growth there. JSU enrolled so many students that the university scrambled to house them even after buying an apartment complex and renting a second hotel near campus.

Students were also up for the second year in a row at Mississippi Valley, where a yearslong decline had raised questions about the Itta Bena university’s viability.

But USM saw the number of students fall for the fourth straight year, the exception among the larger schools. USM officials emphasize that they want to attract and retain high-performing students, and say they welcomed the largest-ever freshman class, with record test scores and high school grades. However, a large number of seniors graduated last spring and falling enrollment brought budget cuts and a handful of layoffs earlier this year.

“The university remains committed to ensuring quality across the board,” President Rodney Bennett said in a statement.

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