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Bodnar file

UM President Seth Bodnar in his first State of the University address, in August 2018.

The University of Montana is making steady, incremental progress in bringing more students to the flagship and developing partnerships that support the community and the institution, President Seth Bodnar said Tuesday.

The president also managed enrollment expectations for the fall. UM has lost 32 percent of its students since 2011, but this spring the vice president for enrollment earlier said she sees indications the ship is turning and said she hoped for a reversal in the fall.

Tuesday, Bodnar said UM is continuing to change the trend and pushing to increase the size of incoming freshman classes. But he said those efforts would bear fruit in the next couple of years and not in fall 2019.

"Overall, you'll expect to see enrollment dip a little bit," Bodnar said.

However, in his midyear update to the campus, the president said UM's measure of success isn't only in increasing enrollment, but in growing quality and "a transformative student experience." He said it's no secret UM has faced significant challenges, but employees are working hard on the flagship's priorities (see box) and seeing concrete progress and results, including the following:

  • UM has 300 more students registered for summer courses this year compared to last year, which saw the highest enrollment since 2014. UM also sent financial aid letters out early this year.
  • Last week, members of the President's Native American Advisory Council called every single one of the 240 Native American students admitted to UM for the fall. "This engaged group … has elevated and addressed some of the needs we have around better celebrating and supporting our Native American community members," Bodnar said in prepared remarks.
  • At Helena College, 37 percent of transfer students last spring chose to transfer to UM, or 21 out of 56. "For the first time in over a decade, the University of Montana is the transfer university of choice for Helena College," Bodnar said.

It's hard to see progress while "hunkered down" doing the difficult work of moving UM forward, but Bodnar said everyone deserves to see the many wins the flagship has experienced from its steadfast approach.

"There is no magic to this. Just persistent discipline," Bodnar said.

Shout-out to athletes

Early on in his presentation, Bodnar also offered props to student athletes for their achievements on the court and in the classroom. The men's basketball team heads to Iowa to face off against the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA tournament, and he congratulated coach Travis DeCuire.

Bodnar also said he wanted to congratulate student athletes for an academic success, "one that you sadly won't get a chance to read about in the newspaper," he said in prepared remarks. He said student athletes last semester "achieved the highest grade point average in the history of Griz athletics." (In January, the Missoulian noted the milestone of the Grizzlies football team reaching a 3.07 GPA in both a column and in its weekly higher education newsletter.)

Bodnar also shared a story he said stuck with him when he met Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of Duke University's basketball team, as a freshman in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. 

He said it was a story about a game many believe is the greatest one played in an NCAA tournament, Duke versus the University of Kentucky in 1992. After a timeout with just 2.1 seconds left in the game, Duke pulled off a 104-103 win. But Bodnar said it wasn't the victory but the coach's leadership that stayed with him.

In the huddle, he said the coach broke down the steps that needed to happen for the team to win. "Grant, can you make a good pass?" he asked player Grant Hill. "Christian (Laettner) can you make the catch?"

"He never said, 'Can you make the shot so we can win?' That's too much pressure on the outcome, and he realized that it's the labor that gets you there," Bodnar said.

After touting campus athletics in his update, he closed his remarks by reading a poem about the beauty of persistence by Mary Oliver, "Forty Years," which he said his chief of staff Kelly Webster shared with him.  

Larger initiatives

The success with Helena College, increase in summer enrollment, and outreach to Native American students are all part of larger initiatives at UM.

UM has seen steep drops in the enrollment of Native American students, from 802 in 2013 to 522 this spring, and in his address, the president said his advisory council is working to better support Native American community members on and off campus. He said UM is developing a website to showcase programs run by Native American faculty and staff, and it's starting a new "tribal outreach position" to help with recruitment and relationships with tribal colleges.

The increase in transfers from Helena College is due to a new "pathways" program UM developed to help those students move into the flagship, and Bodnar said UM has had a "far more active recruitment presence on their campus." Additionally, he said he himself is traveling to high schools in Montana and outside such as Seattle and Spokane to recruit.

UM also is paying attention to student well-being, the president said. The campus opened a food pantry, and it's revamping freshman orientation to form cohorts that help students feel as though they truly belong in Missoula.

Additionally, the president touted the relationship UM has with the community, including with Cognizant ATG, which counts more than 100 UM alumni as employees. He said UM is driving social and economic prosperity and aggressively building an internship program for students to get job experience in the community.

"UM would not be the institution it is were it not located in Missoula, Montana," Bodnar said. "And it's key for us to partner as effectively as we can and to enhance the ways in which the Missoula community makes us a better university."

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