One year after welcoming a record number of students, the University of Montana on Friday announced an enrollment drop, by more than 700 students, for fall classes.
UM still has the largest enrollment in the state, but the gap between it and Montana State University, which announced a record enrollment at the same time Friday, shrank significantly.
UM, which registered 15,669 students for fall semester last year, saw the number dip back below the 15,000 mark for 2012.
The total headcount is 14,943, or 726 fewer students than in 2011.
The number includes 390 fewer students on the central campus, where enrollment is 12,476, and 336 fewer students at Missoula College, the former College of Technology, where 2,467 are enrolled this fall.
Peggy Kuhr, UM interim vice president for integrated communications, told the Missoulian there was no way to know whether there was a direct correlation between the drop in enrollment and months of publicity about UM’s handling of sexual assault reports and ongoing investigations into the school by the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Education and the NCAA.
“We know there are a lot of factors that go into where students choose to attend college,” Kuhr said. “There are complex reasons when enrollments go up, and complex reasons when enrollments go down.”
Economic conditions and the availability of financial aid packages play roles as well, she said.
“Yes, last year was a difficult year for us,” Kuhr said. “We know people had questions about sexual assaults and the investigations, and we’re working hard to get the word out about how we’re addressing those issues.”
On the bright side, Kuhr and UM President Royce Engstrom said this year’s incoming freshmen are better prepared for college than ever before.
More than half – 52 percent – have taken UM’s full-college preparatory curriculum, up from 44 percent in 2011.
Placement test scores were also better. A total of 82 percent of the incoming freshmen tested as college-math ready, up from 75 percent a year ago, and 94 percent are ready for college writing courses, up from 90 percent.
“We’re pleased that so many students this year are better prepared than ever for the college experience,” Engstrom said in a news release announcing the enrollment figures. “It means that we can focus our time with our students on sharing the knowledge and skills they need to get jobs and succeed professionally upon graduation.”
In Bozeman, MSU officials on Friday announced a second straight year of record enrollment, and the school’s sixth in the past seven.
Montana State has 14,660 students attending classes this fall, an increase of 507 from last year’s record of 14,153.
It put MSU within 283 students of UM, one year after UM had more than 1,500 more students than its counterpart.
MSU’s news release said the Bozeman campus was “also the school of choice for some of the state’s best and brightest high school graduates.”
According to the school, 126 of 205 Montana high school graduates offered Montana University System Scholarships – which offer tuition waivers for up to four years to any public university or community college in the state – chose Montana State.
“More than all other Montana institutions combined,” the news release noted.
While total numbers were down, Missoula College did increase its number of full-time equivalent, or FTE, students, UM said.
An FTE represents 15 undergraduate semester credits, or 12 graduate semester credits.
FTE’s at the central campus dropped from 11,443 to 10,716, but at the former College of Technology they increased from 1,686 to 1,780.
Kuhr also noted UM gradated a record 3,190 students in the previous school year, including 2,477 who received undergraduate degrees – also a record.
“It’s not just about enrollment numbers,” she said. “It’s not just getting students in the door. It’s what you do when they’re here, and how prepared they are. We are coming off a record year for graduating students – we are getting lots of them through.”
Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.