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Freshmen Drive Enrollment Jumps At MSU, UM

 Montana State University in Bozeman
Tim Evanson
Montana State University in Bozeman

Enrollment increased this fall at Montana’s two largest universities.

A large freshman class is driving an uptick in university enrollment in both Bozeman and Missoula this year, according to school administrators.

University of Montana spokesperson Dave Kuntz says total enrollment at UM grew for the first time in a decade primarily driven by a large influx of first-year students.

“I think reflected in this enrollment number is that commitment to return in person. We’ve heard anecdotally and now the data bears out that students really value that face-to-face learning experience,” Kuntz says.

It’s similar at Montana State University in Bozeman.

With 16,841 students, overall enrollment at Montana State University is the second largest in the institution's 128-year-history. This year, MSU welcomed its largest incoming class ever: 3,871 first-time students including undergrads and Gallatin College students.

Enrollment from out-of-state students increased by 10% at the University of Montana and 13% at Montana State University. Nathan Grawe, a higher education enrollment expert and professor at Carleton College in Minnesota, says in the pandemic era, access to the outdoors may have played a role in students choosing Montana.

“And so it also might have been that Montana as a state is benefiting from this particular moment in history where people are rethinking the relative advantages of denser urban areas,” Grawe says.

Grawe says that boosts related to outdoor amenities during the COVID-era may only be temporary. In the long term, he says focusing on retention and delivering strong academic programs that lead to future career opportunities will help universities continue to thrive.