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FAYETTEVILLE -- With a dramatic decline in enrollment at Missouri's largest public university, talk in the state has turned to the role of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in attracting students.

"In Kansas City, they are taking a lot of our students," Missouri state Rep. Greg Razer, a Democrat who represents the Missouri city, said in a Feb. 12 budget hearing.

Missouri lawmakers are hashing out a budget after a proposal unveiled last month by Gov. Eric Greitens called for cuts of $68.2 million in funding for universities and two-year schools, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Missourinet, a radio and online news outlet, reported Razer's comments last week.

Suzanne McCray, UA's vice provost for enrollment, in an email said the university hired a recruiter in 2014 to go after students from Missouri.

"We are close to Missouri and offer really excellent educational opportunities," McCray said.

The University of Missouri saw undergraduate enrollment decline to 23,817 students this past fall, down more than 14.3 percent from 27,812 in fall 2015.

Data from UA published online shows a sharp increase six years ago in Missouri students, while recent years have seen their numbers mostly holding steady.

Degree-seeking freshmen from Missouri increased to more than 300 students in fall 2011 from fewer than 200 students in fall 2009. Over the same period, the percentage of UA freshmen from Missouri increased to 7.7 percent from 5.7 percent, according to a Democrat-Gazette analysis.

Since fall 2011, enrollment of freshmen from Missouri has varied, but it reached a high of 364 students in fall 2016. In fall 2017, 362 students from Missouri made up 7.7 percent of degree-seeking freshmen.

UA offers a New Arkansan Non-Resident Tuition Award Scholarship to entering freshmen and transfer students from seven states, including Missouri. The awards, based on grades and college entrance exam scores, are for up to 90 percent of the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition.

In the 2017-18 academic year, out-of-state tuition to attend UA for a year is $22,630 for a typical course load. In-state student tuition is set at $9,062 for the same 30-hour course load.

For public universities, a widespread trend of decreasing state support has led to greater attention for enrollment as a revenue source, said Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management and marketing at DePaul University in Chicago.

"By all accounts, out-of-state students are better revenue sources for them," Boeckenstedt said.

UA has seen enrollment surge in recent years, mostly through greater numbers of out-of-state students, especially Texans.

The university's degree-seeking freshman class totaled 2,899 students in fall 2007, with Arkansans making up 66 percent of that total. This past fall, Arkansans made up 49 percent of a freshman class of 5,065.

Boeckenstedt authors a blog, Higher Ed Data Stories, that displays federal data from schools in an interactive format that allows for quick comparisons between institutions.

He showed UA to be the second most popular out-of-state destination school for Missouri students in 2016, with only the University of Kansas attracting more Missouri students. For the same year, UA was the most popular destination institution for out-of-state students from Texas, enrolling more first-year Texans than the University of Oklahoma.

McCray said the university looks at data to see how UA fares in recruiting out-of-state students compared with other schools.

"We want to be aware of colleges and universities that could have a competitive impact on our enrollment, but we are not trying to be the No. 1 school for any state other than Arkansas," McCray said. "We do want to have a good mix of in-state and out-of-state students, so that all of our students/graduates will have connections across the country."

Boeckenstedt said competition between schools is continuing to heat up as schools fight to enroll students.

"When you think of the market of 17-year-olds and parents, there are probably literally hundreds of things that go into the equation," Boeckenstedt said.

Three factors that stand out are a school's reputation, price and the campus environment, he said.

Sarah Komar, 19, is a first-year UA student who attended Park Hill South High School near Kansas City, Mo. She estimated that about 10 students from her graduating class are attending UA.

Komar earned an Honors College Fellowship of $70,000, and said the award was "pretty much" the reason she decided to attend UA.

But there were other factors, she said, as she considered a similar offer from the University of Oklahoma.

"I wanted to come here because my brother goes here, and also it's a little closer to home. And I just liked it better when I visited," Komar said, adding that her brother, Stephen, earned a similar scholarship award offered by UA.

Komar said that before he attended, her family had no ties to the state of Arkansas.

She said she never seriously considered attending a school in Missouri, citing "so many cuts to public education."

In Arkansas, appropriations for higher education decreased from $7,403 per full-time-equivalent student in 1996 to $7,161 in 2016, then down to $6,886 in 2016, according to inflation-adjusted data from the Colorado-based State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson's most recent budget proposal calls for a $12 million increase in funding for higher education, to $745 million.

Data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association for Missouri show a decrease from $8,039 per full-time-equivalent student in 1996 to $5,933 in 2016, the most recent year for comparative data from the association.

Metro on 02/20/2018

Print Headline: Missouri frets over students' opting for UA

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