MURRAY —Not much has changed since last week when the initial enrollment numbers for Murray State University were released for the opening of the 2019-20 academic year.
That is just fine with the Murray State Board of Regents, who on Friday were able to open the new semester by hearing about positive enrollment numbers for the first time in several years. Updated figures show that the strong increases from the 2018-19 academic year have held together in four key categories of students.
During the meeting, Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Don Robertson spread the positive news that showed a 7.51 percent increase with first-time freshmen, 10.23 percent with first-time transfers and a whopping 11.53 percent increase in the number of first-time graduate students. International students, which also was trending downward last year, also went up by 2.04 percent.
“If you look at our fall 2015 to fall 2018 numbers, you can see how the percent change from year to year was obviously going in a downward trend,” Robertson said of numbers that showed how Murray State’s enrollment in that time frame saw a drop of 10.15 percent in first-time freshmen, 11.59 percent in first-time transfers, 29.76 percent in first-time grads and an alarming 55.74 percent in total international students.
Following the 2017-18 academic year, then-Regent Chair Susan Guess and then-Vice Chair Lisa Rudolph charged Robertson and others to formulate a comprehensive plan to reverse this trend.
“Our goal was to at least flatten it and start some upward momentum and, as you can see, we certainly have been able to do that. Our total number of students of 9,550, in fact, is up overall from where we were last year.”
This was despite a very large senior class graduating in the spring, which led some university officials to think that the overall number would be flat, or perhaps be just a bit lower than last year.
Robertson continued, “Dr. (Renee) Fister (the university’s director of institutional effectiveness and strategic planning) is still getting reports even today and our numbers are still holding.”
The report very much pleased Guess’s successor as chair, Dan Kemp.
“I’m very proud of the progress we have made in our recruiting and our enrollment,” Kemp said. “I want to thank (President Dr. Bob Jackson) and the entire staff, including our board members, for all of the hard work that’s been done to turn it around. It’s really heartwarming to see that we’re having success, and I wish Regent Guess were here to take part in this and see it because I think she provided some strong leadership in turning around our enrollment.”
Yet another residence hall will be disappearing on the campus after the Regents unanimously decided to approve the razing of the original Richmond College building.
Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services Jackie Dudley said the estimated cost to demolish the four-story structure, one of three elongated structures constructed in the 1960s in the main dorm complex at the extreme north end of the campus, will be about $400,000. She said the original Richmond building is not housing students this year.
“It’s not going to be something you’re going to see coming down this week, but by this action, it’ll allow us to go ahead and start working on it,” Dudley said, noting that acceptance of bids will be the next step.
In the past three years, the university has seen Woods Hall and Springer College both disappear after both experienced difficulties. Woods was razed this past summer, while Springer was destroyed after a mold infestation.
Mold also was an issue about two years ago with the Biology Building of the Jesse Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology along North 16th Street. Now, it appears work to renovate that building is nearly ready to start after some difficulty was faced after the Regents approved a plan in 2017.
Director of Facilities Management Jason Youngblood said Friday that consultants for the project quickly discovered some unforeseen issues.
“We found several things that needed to be fixed that we knew would be issues, but we kind of discovered the extent of those issues and what needed to be taken care of,” Youngblood said.
The long and the short of the matter is that although the Regents had previously approved $2 million for the project in 2017, another $2 million is needed now. That additional funding was approved unanimously Friday.
Jackson also took time to remember some Murray State people who have been lost over the last several months, noting that it has been “a tough time” on the campus.
He started by recognizing Scott City, Missouri student Samantha Ratledge, who lost her life at the age of 22 last weekend in a boating accident on Kentucky Lake.
It has also been a trying time for the Murray State faculty, with the loss of several current and former professors. These included longtime Department of Journalism and Mass Communications Chairman Dr. Robert McGaughey, whose death was followed by one of the few funerals on the campus.
Longtime English professor Dr. Roy Helton also was lost this summer, as well as history professor Taufiq Rashid, Dr. Choomg-Nam Kang, a political science professor, and Dr. Leon Duobinis-Gray, a biological sciences professor.