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Fall UM Enrollment Drops

Josh Burnham

For the eighth year in a row, fall enrollment has dropped at the University of Montana.

Despite the slide, campus officials say they’re encouraged by what they’re seeing.

The University of Montana announced Tuesday that overall enrollment is down just over 1% from fall semester of 2018. Enrollment figures show 125 fewer students this fall than last year, with just shy of 10,000 students enrolled at UM.

UM’s chief enrollment officer, Cathy Cole, says that enrollment dip came as a surprise to no one. 

“We knew that with the bigger graduating class we had in the spring–and then we graduated about another 400 students this summer–we knew overall enrollment was going to dip a little bit. We planned for it on the educational side and on the budget side. We’re well within our parameters there,” she says.

UM’s undergrad enrollment has plummeted by over 30% since 2011. Enrollment is closely tied to budgeting.

Cole says the university is working hard to attract more first-time freshmen to campus. There are almost 3% more of them attending UM this semester than at this time last year.

“And that indicates that we’re getting our message out there to the right students and that they are reciprocating by coming to an institution that will give them a tomorrow-proof education,” Cole says.

What’s more, Cole says UM is doing a better job of holding on to those freshman into their sophomore year.

“And this year we were able to increase that by three full percentage points. We went from 68.4% to 71.4%. That’s an incredible boost to the retention," she says.

The university released two sets of enrollment numbers Tuesday. One includes both paid and pending students.

The other metric, the one used for this story, includes only those students who are fully enrolled and paid up. UM says that’s a more accurate reflection of enrollment and officials intend to fully adopt that census method by next fall.

Bozeman’s Montana State University, meanwhile, recorded an enrollment this fall of 16,766 students. That’s about 140 fewer than last autumn's record enrollment.

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Edward O'Brien is Montana Public Radio's Associate News Director.