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Fall enrollment at the University of Montana is down 4.3 percent, for a total headcount of 13,358 students, according to preliminary figures released Friday.

At the mountain campus, the enrollment was down 3.8 percent. At Missoula College, the headcount decreased 6.5 percent. UM's graduate student numbers, meanwhile, were up 2 percent.

"In my State of the University address, I identified enrollment as an ongoing challenge," UM President Royce Engstrom said in a statement. "A number of factors affect enrollment. For UM, they include the sharp rise in two-year enrollment at Missoula College during the recession and a decline as the economy improved."

UM cited numerous reasons for the decline in enrollment. The number of Montana high school graduates is decreasing; Montana State University's growth can be attributed in part to its engineering program, for which UM has no competing major; and student loan debt also plays a role.

It also cited economic difficulties in countries that have traditionally sent many students to UM. Those include Brazil and Japan, both of which are experiencing economic difficulties, according to Peggy Kuhr, vice president of integrated communications. Officials at UM had anticipated that fewer students would be coming from those countries.

It's "an example of how international conditions have an impact on enrollment," Kuhr said.

The decline was projected in the budget prepared by the UM Office of Planning, Budgeting and Analysis, according to the statement.

Last week, the state's other flagship university, Montana State University in Bozeman, announced a record enrollment of 15,688 students, an increase of 1.7 percent.


Kuhr's office and admissions and recruiting staff have increased the number of ways they reach out to students. Those include letters and brochures and digital avenues such as a new website and social media, and some new initiatives Kuhr said will be rolled out.

They've also increased "personal outreach": Sending faculty members and not just recruiting staff to talk in high schools around Montana.

With the increased interest in medical and health industries, Kuhr said UM has changed and increased its advising for students interested in those careers.

"We have had tremendous success at helping them get admitted from UM into medical school," she said.

She said they are also examining ways to increase health and science programs, including at-capacity majors such as the pharmacy school.

They're doing likewise at Missoula College, where demand exceeds capacity in areas such as welding and culinary arts, the latter of which has a 100 percent placement rate for graduates.

In welding, they've added one additional section and are looking at night and weekend classes.

She said Engstrom looks at enrollment using broader metrics than just student numbers.

"We need to look at overall, what are we offering? Overall, how are we reaching out, and overall what are the metrics that we're targeting and working on," she said.

As examples, she cited long-term investments and research. UM had almost $83 million in research awards during fiscal year 2015, the news release noted, which is a record.

Donations are another factor. "We have had two outstanding years regarding individuals and companies wanting to give money to the university through (the University of Montana Foundation)," she said.

That money goes to students and scholarships, faculty opportunities, and named faculty positions and programs.

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