MTSU Enrollment Decline Causes Funding Cuts, Worries About Tennessee Promise
MTSU will be encouraging students to choose a major or focus area before they step foot on campus, although the school isn't eliminating the "undeclared" option yet. Credit: Emily R. West / WPLN

MTSU Enrollment Decline Causes Funding Cuts, Worries About Tennessee Promise

MTSU will have 1,000 less students on its campus of now 22,000. Credit: Emily R. West.

Middle Tennessee State University is experiencing a roughly 5 percent drop in enrollment, meaning a thousand fewer students taking classes this fall.

This concerns Steve Morris, the Political Science Department Chair, who has seen a big drop in students choosing poli-sci degrees. He worries what the enrollment dip will mean when the state launches Tennessee Promise next fall, which will allow students to attend state community colleges for free.

“Many of us envision that’s it’s going to have a dramatic effect, and so enrollment will continue to be a challenge,” Morris says.

Governor Bill Haslam doesn’t see the downturn as anything alarming, nor does he think Tennessee Promise will have a negative effect on four-year schools.

“When you look back at 2008-2009, the economy was softened and college attendance went up,” Haslam says. “When the economy got better, it weakened. You have to look at the long term trend line, and nothing has changed from the fact that we have to dramatically increase the number of Tennesseans who earn a degree.”

In fact, Haslam predicts enrollment numbers will increase over time because of Tennessee Promise and as more students attend school and transfer to continue their degrees.

But for now, the enrollment drop at MTSU is going to mean cuts in the budget.

University provost Brad Bartel says there will be at least $3 million cut from academic affairs, which hires instructors who teach general education and upper division courses. The university could also have to hold off from hiring new faculty to replace the tenured professors retiring in the coming year.

“The people that we have who are adjunct or are full time temporary faculty do a wonderful job, and so we have to be very careful whether we release them from employment,” Bartel says.  

According to Bartel, the decline in enrollment is also because of a smaller freshman class of 2,932. But MTSU is still the largest university in the Tennessee Board of Regents with 22,729 students.

The TBR will release all of its final enrollment data for the semester in the coming days. Preliminary figures show Austin Peay State University is also down by more than three percent. But Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech have seen enrollment growth this fall of roughly two percent.

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