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Murray State 'more aggressive' in recruiting Illinois students

By JOHN PFEIFER jpfeifer@paducahsun.com

MURRAY -- As Illinois ends its second full year without a state budget, Murray State University has ramped up its advertising and marketing efforts directed at Illinois high school students.

And that focus is even more intense in counties south of Interstate 64 that make up the core market of the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale campus.

"We have tried to become a little more aggressive with work on social media platforms targeting southern Illinois students," said Fred Dietz, MSU associate vice president of enrollment management.

Although the number of MSU students from Illinois' southernmost 18 counties remains almost unchanged over the past decade (316 last fall, compared with 317 in fall 2007), Dietz said Murray State is seeing results from its most recent marketing efforts.

He said MSU had 172 first-year freshman students from Illinois last fall compared with 135 a year earlier. Although that 27 percent increase amounted to only 35 additional students, Dietz called it significant.

"We boil down our message to the opportunities that they have at Murray State that they may not have elsewhere," Dietz said. He added that MSU's "value proposition" focused on experiential opportunities including internships and study abroad programs.

"Everyone knows Carbondale's problems," he said. "We would never go out and say, 'It's a mess - come to Kentucky.'"

He's sympathetic to the confluence of declining enrollment and greatly reduced state aid inherited by SIU System President (and former MSU President) Randy Dunn.

"That could be any one of us at any time," Dietz said.

Enrollment at SIU Carbondale has declined 17.3 percent over the past five years. This year's loss of over 1,100 students (7.5 percent) is the largest one-year percentage decline in university history.

During this same five-year period, enrollment at Murray State has remained relatively stable, down just 1.2 percent since 2011.

And while the total cost of tuition and fees for incoming full-time undergraduates has risen 27.7 percent at MSU compared with 22.1 percent at SIU, the annual cost for a Kentucky resident to attend Murray State is more than $5,000 less than they would pay to attend college in Carbondale.

The annual tuition and fee cost for an Illinois resident to attend MSU is $1,500 higher than their cost to attend SIU. The exception is students from Massac County, who pay Kentucky in-state rates due to a reciprocity agreement.

Last fall, 92 Massac County students attended Murray State. Only St. Clair County (near St. Louis), with 113, sent more students to MSU than Massac County last year.

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