Researchers Estimate Effect of Scandals on University Enrollment
By the latest estimates, enrollment at Mizzou this fall is slated to be down by some 2,600 students. This means $36.3 million less in tuition revenue and an overall budget shortfall of $46 million. The university has already instituted across-the-board cuts and has shuttered whole dorms.
By all accounts, the lion’s share of this decline is due to the protests that roiled the campus last school year. Those events were covered in short and long form in local and national press over the course of several weeks. The charging and ultimate dismissal of professor Melissa Click continues to keep the story alive.
Interestingly, just last month, researchers at Harvard Business school estimated the enrollment impacts of scandals at the nation’s top 100 universities. While they narrowly defined “scandals” as sexual assaults, murders, cheating, and hazing incidents, it’s easy to imagine large-scale protests of alleged racism and professors assaulting students as functioning similarly.
The researchers found that, on average, a scandal that gets long-form news coverage will decrease university enrollment by about 10 percent in the following year, which they say is roughly equivalent to losing 10 spots in the US News and World Report rankings. While schools that have experienced scandals are less likely to have another in the five years following one, the damage is done.
Quantifying these effects underscores the importance of solid management of our universities. Yes, some of these instances are out of the university’s control, but how they handle them will determine how the media, and prospective students, respond.