For the second consecutive semester, enrollment has dropped at the University of Montana.
Numbers released by UM on Friday showed a 3.4 percent enrollment decrease for the 2013 spring semester. Enrollment stands at 14,201, 505 students fewer than a year ago at this time.
A “spring of great challenges” at UM last year affected the numbers, but the main damper on enrollment remains money, said Peggy Kuhr, UM vice president for integrated communications.
“The news about the sexual assault investigation and the attention given to it, we believe that had an effect (on enrollment). But the No. 1 reason we hear is more related to financial situations,” Kuhr said.
Allegations of sexual misconduct by UM students and athletes were compounded by ongoing investigations into the school – and its handling of sexual assault reports – by the U.S. departments of Justice and Education, and the NCAA.
Fall semester enrollment dropped by nearly 5 percent from the previous year, with 14,943 students enrolling at UM. The decrease came after a record 15,669 students enrolled for the 2011 fall semester.
The university has taken important steps to “move forward” in light of the allegations and investigations, Kuhr said Friday.
Chief among the improvements is a new requirement that all students take the “Personal Empowerment Through Self-Awareness” training tutorial. UM also is working closely with the city of Missoula to spread the word about resources for victims of sexual assault, Kuhr said.
“Did it affect enrollment? Yes. Does it mean we’re a better campus today? I think so,” Kuhr said.
Spring enrollment numbers are traditionally lower than fall counts. And the 3.6 percent spring enrollment decline is encouraging when compared with the 4.6 percent enrollment drop from fall 2011 to fall 2012, Kuhr said.
“Yes it is decline. At the same time, we see the percentage moving in the positive direction for us,” Kuhr said.
Meanwhile, Montana State University is celebrating another enrollment record.
MSU announced in mid-February a record 13,700 students enrolled for the 2013 spring semester.
The focus isn’t on head-to-head comparisons with MSU, Kuhr said, but rather on how many students are successfully making the transition from high school to college, then going on to graduate.
“Whether you’re from UM or MSU, we want students going on to pursue higher education, if that’s two years, or four years or getting a certificate training,” Kuhr said. “(The main concerns are) A: Are Montana high school students graduating? And B: Are they going on to more education?”
That said, May 1 is “national decision deadline” for students who have been accepted into colleges across the U.S., and the university has spent increased time and money recruiting potential students so they’ll say yes to UM, Kuhr said.
“We’re spending more money and are able to offer more scholarships and better financial aid packages,” she said. “There’s been more outreach, you name it, whether it’s phone calls, face to face, social media connections and even the mailing of brochures and other types of mailings.”
Changes to undergraduate advising and retention programs have already been implemented to help boost enrollment. Improvements include a more aggressive initiative to identify students who struggle early on in the semester and a wider offering of tutoring, lab and study group opportunities, Kuhr said.
UM had a record graduation class in May 2012 and Kuhr expects another large graduation class in May 2013.
“Enrollments go up and down, you need to be flexible,” Kuhr said, “and be doing everything you can to make sure you’re recruiting the best students.”