WARRENSBURG — The University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg has seen record enrollment in the last few years and it seems school officials are doing their best to make sure that trend continues.
During his State of the University address in the fall, UCM President Dr. Charles Ambrose told the crowd it was another record year for enrollment while at the same time student debt was decreasing. Ambrose met with members of the media Thursday and told them the trend hasn’t changed.
“More students attending college, holding tuition below inflation, a 23 percent increase in graduates, more graduates on track to finish in four years, and, we’ll give you more specific information as we close out census, but it looks like we’ve taken another $4 million out of our debt portfolio as an institution, so for two years that totals almost $10 million less in borrowing than we’ve had, down from about $65 million to $55 million,” Ambrose said. “More students completed their degrees on time, at the same time having to borrow less to go to college. Pretty extraordinary, really. Public perception is that’s not possible; it is here.”
Ambrose said it’s possible at UCM because of the institution’s “focus” on several areas, including access to education, such as online and evening classes, the Lee’s Summit campus and the Missouri Innovation Campus for Lee’s Summit high school students, and the “completion agenda.”
“I think we’re only starting to knock on the door of what’s possible,” Ambrose said.
As the Missouri legislation session is now underway, several bills are being filed that could affect universities, such as one bill that seeks to no longer require students to live on campus, something that is quite the opposite of UCM’s Learning to a Greater Degree contract with students.
“Here we’re trying to say if you live on campus two years, you’re going to graduate at a higher rate and have the full college experience, but at the same time there’s opportunities to think out of the box,” Ambrose said. “UCM has the best opportunity to live in the old paradigm of living in residence halls if students can afford it, and new models to help meet the needs in case cost, time or life gets in the way.”
While UCM is sticking to what it knows when it comes to living on campus and the new completion agreement with students, the school is also continuing improvements both to campus structures and new policies.
Ambrose said this semester work will get underway on the WC Morris science building, improvements in the Fitzgerald and Nattinger/Bradshaw residence halls as well as the Ellis dining hall this summer, plus Orange Leaf will open at The Crossing in about a month. The Board of Governors will also review a bid at an upcoming meeting regarding expanding parking by 400 spaces on the west side of campus.
Beginning this fall, incoming freshmen will move in a few days early, changing the timing of Mule Haul, to help with orientation. Also on the docket is the next residence hall to receive renovations per UCM’s strategic plan: the Fraternity Complex, which was plagued by mold at the beginning of the fall semester. Ambrose said a more concrete plan for fraternity housing would be available in the fall. And while he didn’t offer specifics, there are “pending retail changes” at Elliott Student Union.
On the academics side, UCM is working to expand the idea of the Missouri Innovation Campus — which will break ground March 11 — to the local area instead of just the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District. MIC — which will be the only campus of its kind in the country — helps students complete a degree faster and with less debt, starting while in high school, and getting hands-on experience with prominent technology and engineering companies in the Kansas City area.
“We’re going to provide an innovation track that will basically offer the same promise — lower the cost of education, accelerate the time to a degree,” Ambrose said. “We don’t think we can necessarily replace the internship component we have with the Lee’s Summit model fully, we just don’t have the density of placements; where we can we will do that. Our commitment’s going to be any young person that makes the deliberate decision their sophomore year can complete a UCM degree in three years.”
The new track will launch in February with Warrensburg High School, but Ambrose said the hope is to expand the track to other West Central Missouri schools, including Smith-Cotton High School. He also said they have been talking with President Dr. JoAnna Anderson at State Fair Community College to work more aggressively with dual-credit courses. A campus like the Summit Technology Campus may even be created for the Kansas City Public School District if grant money comes through in the next few months.
“About 80 Warrensburg students graduate early, so a lot of students are already doing it,” Ambrose said. “This is creating a more defined path.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.