City council approves Columbia College expansion as enrollment grows

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COLUMBIA -A move by the city of Columbia Monday night highlighted the stark contrast between enrollment at two of the city's colleges.

Columbia City Council approved Columbia College expansion plans Monday, solidifying the school's growth as enrollment numbers climb.

Columbia College saw a 12.8 percent increase in enrollment last fall, and officials are expecting more growth this fall.

Stephanie Johnson, Columbia College's senior director of admissions, said enrollment has grown to a point where the school is having trouble housing its students. 

"As we were bringing our incoming class in last fall, we were at overload in our residential halls, to the point that we had to turn lounges into four-student suites," she said. "We also had to bunk students with RAs where they normally have single rooms."

The school hopes to add an up-to-6-story building at the center of campus to use as an academic and residence hall. The expansion will likely also include more parking space around campus. 

The new building would offer a modern alternative to the school's aging residence halls. The school's newest dorm was built in 1969 and has seen only modest renovations since then.

"Refresh the paint, some limited new furniture, carpeting," said Cliff Jarvis, the school's executive director of plant & facilities

Jarvis said the school's planned expansion still faces a number of hurdles. 

"There is a schedule of activities that have to occur before we're ready to break ground," he said. "Including additional approvals — internal additional approvals — and then we're gonna have to get some plans put together. There's the fundraising standpoint, solving the budget question."

Jarvis said officials had a general idea of how much they thought the project would cost, but wouldn't say what the figure was. He said the school administration needs to assess how to best adjust the budget for the expansion.

"How do we allocate resources to fund this building?" Jarvis said.

The school's plans are reflective of growth that stands in stark contrast to MU, where budget cuts and job losses are, in part, being blamed on slumping enrollment. 

Johnson said while Columbia College is doing well right now, MU's lower numbers is bad news for everyone.

"If students aren't coming to Columbia, they're not coming to Columbia the town, they're not coming to Columbia the city; and this is College town, USA so it impacts MU, it impacts Columbia College and Stephens as well," she said.

Asked what was working for Columbia College, Johnson said, "Perhaps, you know, recruitment — we are really making our recruiters [go] out in the high schools more. We have done a lot more as far as grassroots, direct recruitment and so — I can't speak to their recruitment model and what they're trying for admissions, but that was our focus this year."

Jarvis speculated that the remaining red tape the plans have to go through could take anywhere from six to 18 months.