Enrollment for University Center institutions relatively unfazed by pandemic

Michael D. Smith

Even though a monthslong pandemic has caused upheaval in schools, enrollment numbers at southern Oklahoma colleges do not seem to be heavily impacted. Three institutions with a presence in Carter County have mostly recorded little change in the number of students compared to last year.

Murray State College and Southeastern Oklahoma State University have both seen healthy enrollment numbers compared to the fall 2019 semester, while Langston University has seen enrollment in classes at University Center of Southern Oklahoma nearly double. 

The University Center of Southern Oklahoma on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. Three regional higher education institutions hold classes at the Ardmore campus.

MSC and Southeastern enrollments this semester have broken records, according to statements from each school.

“This continued enrollment growth is a direct result of the efforts of our faculty and staff,’’ said Southeastern president Thomas Newsom in a Thursday statement. “They deserve a lot of credit, not only for ensuring a smooth transition to virtual learning last March, but for planning and preparing for a return to face-to-face instruction this fall.”

Southeastern said the 5,339 students this semester represents the largest headcount since the school opened in 1909 and the first time more than 5,000 students were enrolled for a semester. Along with the 10.7% increase in student numbers over last year, the school also reported a 6.7% increase in student credit hours. 

MSC has enrolled 2,148 students this semester, which is slightly higher than fall enrollment last year. The school expects more students to enroll ahead of an eight-week semester of general education classes beginning in October.

“We were uncertain what this semester might bring and are thrilled to have higher enrollment numbers than last year,” said MSC President Joy McDaniel. “Things are going more smoothly than expected with social distancing and the campus-wide wearing of masks.”

While enrollment at the MSC campus in Tishomingo grew by more than 11.5% over 2019 enrollment, the number of MSC students enrolled at the University Center of Southern Oklahoma in Ardmore fell by more than 25%. Despite the drastic drop in Ardmore enrollment, MSC students at UCSO still accounted for 37% of the school’s total enrollment and 16% of credit hours this semester.

Langston University has recorded 2,038 students this semester across four campuses, according to preliminary data from the school. While overall enrollment fell about 7% from enrollment at the beginning of the fall 2019 semester, the number of LU students enrolled at UCSO nearly doubled. 

UCSO dates back to the 1970s and started holding classes at its current location in 2018. Requests for comment from UCSO officials about enrollment remained unanswered this week.

Last month, Peggy Maher departed as the center’s CEO after about two years on the job and was replaced by Andre Moore on an interim basis. The UCSO Board of Trustees on Thursday formed a search committee to begin the process of naming a new facility leader.