University of Montana President Royce Engstrom gets an update on enrollment at least once a week – and his vice president for enrollment reviews the data "continually," according to a campus spokeswoman.
Enrollment has been a critical issue at UM since the decline of some 20 percent on the main campus since 2010 and ensuing budget cuts – an estimated $12 million last year.
However, a little more than two weeks before school starts, UM is not releasing projected enrollment. It also is not providing other metrics that could shed light on the numbers of students planning to head to UM this fall, such as freshmen registration figures for orientation.
"It is the policy of the university that enrollment data is shared after the 15th instructional day," said the spokeswoman, communications director Paula Short, in an email this week. "That is when the figures are truly representative of our enrollment numbers.
"Until then, there are many variables that can significantly impact the enrollment count, making it necessary to wait and therefore ensure accuracy."
Montana State University also isn't providing enrollment projections at this time. MSU spokesman Tracy Ellig said numbers will not be released until they are finalized – sometime after the 15th day of classes.
"Typically, it takes us several days to review the data and finalize it, so it won’t be until around Sept. 23 that we are releasing final enrollment numbers for the fall of 2016," he said in an email.
Around the region, it is not uncommon for universities to discuss early enrollment data or projections.
Earlier this summer, the University of Washington shared an enrollment estimate to state regents as part of a broader report. In a phone call, director of admissions Paul Seegert said UW regularly provides preliminary numbers, albeit with caveats.
"It's never totally precise," Seegert said. " ... We can't be sure until the census day."
He also said UW closes its applications earlier in the school year, so it's easier to make projections than campuses that are still admitting students through the summer, such as UM.
Idaho State University created a "snapshot" of enrollment this summer that showed a projected decline. A university admissions officer could not be reached for comment Thursday.
However, Idaho State officials put the data in context for the Idaho State Journal and noted the specific numbers might not precisely reflect the final fall enrollment, which would be certified 10 days after the semester starts.
In Montana, preliminary data has been shared in the past, at least at times. In 2013, Montana State University President Waded Cruzado referenced preliminary counts in her state of the university address.
The Missoulian asked to be directed to UM's policy that precluded the release of early enrollment information and related data.
In response, UM presented the Montana University System's "enrollment reporting procedures," which discuss the way campuses assess information for the university system, noting census dates, a timeline for analyzing and validating data, and the way to calculate FTEs, or full-time equivalent students.
The procedures do not prohibit early reporting of preliminary data. They do note that enrollment counts "will be recorded at the end of the 15th day of instruction each semester" and give schools a couple of weeks to ensure precise data before the numbers are considered final.
"It's been the practice of UM to release data in accordance with the procedures and reporting timeline established system-wide," Short said in an email.
The UM budget is based on a specific enrollment estimate, and Short provided a finance document from May that notes the university is projecting flat enrollment – 11,237 full-time equivalent students – this fiscal year compared to its projection last fiscal year.
UM typically announces its fall and spring enrollment figures with news releases, but in March 2016, it quietly posted on its website the census noting a 7.5 percent decline compared to last spring.