Lon Morris College Acts To Decrease Enrollment
By KELLY GOOCH
Fall enrollment figures significantly decreased at one Jacksonville higher education institution after deliberate measures were implemented, while numbers slightly increased at two others.
Fall enrollment at Lon Morris College is at 607 students -- 529 full-time, 54 dual enrollment, and 24 other part-time, according to information from the academic dean. Last year's enrollment was at 1,070, with 107 dual enrollment, 33 part-time, and 930 full-time.
Lon Morris President Dr. Miles McCall said the school intended to decrease enrollment.
"We want to grow, but we know and recognize we grew too quickly, and we purposely and strategically tried to keep our enrollment numbers down where the faculty can accommodate," he said. "And because we're a small school, we tried to increase our profit margin or new returns. We believe we have made adjustments that are more appropriate for our campus facilities."
The school used several initiatives to achieve that lower enrollment, one of which was increasing tuition and fees. Students were charged an additional $750 per semester -- $500 for tuition and $250 for a student activity fee -- bringing the total cost of attendance to $21,830 per year.
McCall said Lon Morris still offers $3.5 million worth of scholarships, but it also had to decrease the amount of institutional support.
Lastly, the school limited the number of scholarships that could be awarded in many of its programs and purposely reduced the number of participants in some programs. For instance, the number of men in the football program was reduced from 300 to 120.
As far as employees, the school had to bring in more adjunct faculty the last two years to accommodate growth, McCall said, but most classes are now taught by full-time faculty members.
"With (our) financial challenges, we've really looked at our staff and faculty and have tried to reduce personnel where we could and be effective," he said. "We haven't laid anyone off, but we have restructured ... (and) so far we have been able to face our challenges."
In the future, McCall said, Lon Morris will try to increase its enrollment number, but not by much. School officials hoped to be in the lower 700s this fall, and that's what it will shoot for next year. He noted that Lon Morris is still the largest higher education institution in Jacksonville with its 607 headcount, and this year's figure is a significant increase from the about 300 it had for many years.
He still has a vision for the school to eventually have 1,000 students, but said it is not capable of handling that until it takes additional measures such as adding student housing, McCall said. The college is no longer renting facilities off-campus as it has in the past, and on-campus housing is at capacity. McCall estimated that about 75 to 100 students rent apartments, duplexes and condos off-campus.
He said the school also will continue to look at ways to streamline operations by reorganizing the work load for employees and emphasizing areas that are most critical.
"Our mission is to provide an access point for young people to higher education," he said. "We're a faith-based liberal arts education, and our focus is on helping students mature socially, spiritually and academically. We feel with our numbers now and infrastructure, we're able to do that in a quality way."
He added, "For those of us that work here, it's been a great fall. (Students have) become more involved in churches, (student activities), (and) community service work ... It will take a few years to see which (enrollment) number is right."
While Lon Morris College experienced a significant decrease in enrollment, two other institutions saw slight increases compared to last year.
At Jacksonville College, fall enrollment increased by almost 60 students -- going from 402 to 459.
Academic Dean Tam Clark said the school hasn't done an official scientific analysis to see where the increases are. However, more students are taking prerequisites to prepare for a nursing program, and when economic times are tough, people attend classes so they are more marketable for jobs, she said. Ms. Clark also attributed the increase to more high school students taking classes for dual credit.
She said the school has moved some classes to larger spaces, but it is still in keeping with its goal of small class sizes and has done well at anticipating an enrollment increase.
"We are still within the bounds of what our campus is able to service without any problems," she said.
"We're excited over the increase."
As far as future enrollment goals, she said that will likely be more defined after new president Dr. Mike Smith takes the helm in January.
The Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary also saw a slight increase compared to last year -- going from 112 to 122.
Academic Dean Dr. Philip Attebery said the increase is typical for the seminary, based on enrollment trends in the last 10 years. He said enrollment tends to go up fairly consistently, drop, and then go up again. Enrollment dropped from 2009 to 2010.
Attebery said the increase from 2010 to 2011 could partly be because the seminary offered extra financial incentive to help encourage people to get started.
"For us, people tell us forever 'I'm going to come,' and we gave incentive to go ahead," he said.
Attebery noted that Baptist churches don't typically require a seminary education to be a pastor, although pastors do have to meet credentials. Therefore, he said, students sometimes believe they can wait longer to go to seminary.
Attebery said he also believes that people returning to school because of the down economy has also been a factor in enrollment.
In the future, he said the school plans to consider new recruiting ideas to possibly attract even more students.
"We hear people say about us we're the best kept secret in East Texas," he said. "It's encouraging but at the same time we wish more people did know about it. We've had a good number (of students) in the past and want it to go up."