For the past two years, California sent more college students out of state than it received from other states. Last year, about 35,000 young adults left New Jersey to go to college in a neighboring state. Part of this outcome reflects the impact of economics, as tuition has risen and financial aid for students has not kept pace in these states; and part of it reflects the desire of many young adults to discover new places and experience new challenges.
Nevertheless, the University of Montana has experienced record enrollments as students from Montana and the world flock to campus to learn, create new opportunities for themselves and their families, and become productive citizens of the state and world. Between 2005 and 2009, more full-time students entered the Montana University System from 15 Western states (including Arizona, Idaho and Wyoming) than left Montana for a college or university in the region.
What do we know about these students? They bring outstanding records by all standard measures: Many have earned National Merit Scholarships, have AP Scholar status, have volunteered in their communities, and served as editors of their high school newspapers. They include accomplished athletes, talented musicians and artists, riveting stage performers, math and science enthusiasts, budding entrepreneurs, exceptional writers, and, above all, individuals poised to make their marks in the world. Increasingly, we also admit promising non-traditional students who want a fresh start, first-generation students who will lead their entire families forward, and historically under-represented students. To meet the challenge, we seek to offer these incoming students the programs they want and need and the support vital to success in college.
How do we help these students succeed in their chosen fields? We offer a wide range of majors, ranging from accounting to wildlife biology. We provide activities that enhance and support learning. Our new plan, Partnering for Student Success, seeks to increase the number of University of Montana students who stay in college and graduate on time. We have expanded tutoring in math, writing, and specific subjects, increased access to advising, re-designed summer orientation and pre-registration, and provided more help for students wishing to transfer from the two-year College of Technology to the four-year campus. Since the introduction of the plan, the number of students who continue after the first year has risen. Graduation rates continue to improve as well.
Some Montanans leave the state to obtain higher education. Adventure beckons or a scholarship offer proves too good to turn down. But when they return, and many do, they bring back innovative ideas and knowledge. Whether they get their advanced degrees in Montana or any other state, they enter the workplace ready to help their families succeed, to create new jobs and businesses, to engage in public service, to act as stewards of Montana's lands and natural resources, and to contribute to improvements in the lives of fellow Montanans.
The future of the state rests on an educated citizenry able to tackle important problems in the 21st century's knowledge-based economy. The University of Montana welcomes those who want to make a difference.
Arlene Walker-Andrews is associate provost at the University of Montana.