Before this week’s University Council meeting came to a close, University of Montana President Royce Engstrom detailed the steps the school is taking to tackle enrollment.
Competition for students is at an all-time high, he said, and schools both in and out of state are vying for a smaller pool of high school graduates.
“We’re in a challenging enrollment environment,” Engstrom said. “We’ve implemented five steps to address our enrollment challenge.”
First among them, Engstrom said, the school is now making strategic investments in recruiting new students. The university has contracted with an outside firm to identify a greater pool of potential students and contact them in measured ways.
Engstrom told a roomful of faculty and staff members that the efforts are paying off. The nonresident inquiry pool is now 70 percent higher than it was at this point last year.
“The top of the funnel, if you will, is getting bigger for us,” he said. “We’ve found that we’ve invested quite a bit lower per student recruited than is typical of public institutions, and that has translated into fewer contacts with prospective students.”
Engstrom said the university also is addressing financial aid. He said the school has reviewed its tuition waivers and will work to be more precise when offering them.
The UM Foundation also has launched an inaugural Investing in Student Success campaign to invest in scholarships, Engstrom said.
“They’ve kicked off a major fundraising effort around scholarship,” he said. “We’ll work to be more precise with our tuition waivers as well.”
Shane Giese, president and CEO of the UM Foundation, said the university currently raises around $5 million a year for scholarships. He said the foundation looks to increase that over three years to $25 million, marking a 60 percent increase in scholarship offerings.
He said the scholarships are broken down to merit-based, need-based, offerings for prepared students and graduate fellowships.
“Graduate fellowships are particularly important as we emphasize new efforts in our research,” Giese said. “Supporting the research that’s done and the professor leading that research is important.”
Engstrom said the university also has ramped up its general marketing efforts – things like running more television ads during football games, placing billboards across the state and running strategic newspaper advertisements promoting high-profile university events.
To a chuckle among the audience, Engstrom said the university also has driven up its Facebook “likes” from 15,000 to 70,000.
It is, he said, a sign of the times.
“Getting the attention of prospective students has become so much more competitive,” he said.