University of Montana

Main Hall at the University of Montana

University of Montana President Seth Bodnar expects this year’s freshman class to be larger than last year’s, a possible turning point in UM’s ongoing effort to boost enrollment.

Bodnar made the prediction at a Tuesday lunch hosted on campus by the University of Montana Foundation and the Missoula Downtown Association.

“I feel confident that we’re going to have a larger incoming freshman class this year than we had last year,” he told about 30 local businesspeople and UM employees.

UM conducts a student census on the 15th day of each semester. The last increase in the number of first-time entering freshman was a 1.9% gain from Fall 2016 to Fall 2017. It dropped 9.3% the following year, reaching 1,172 students in Fall 2018.

Meanwhile, overall UM enrollment has dropped 32% since 2011. As of last fall, enrollment at the Mountain Campus stood at 9,565 students, 6,909 of them undergraduates.

Since Bodnar took office in January 2018, his administration has sought to stem that decline, and he said Tuesday that increasing freshman class size is key. “The way we reverse it is we have a larger incoming class,” Bodnar said.

Overall enrollment will still decline this year, he acknowledged, because the addition of new freshmen and transfers will be outweighed by the loss of graduating seniors. But if freshman class sizes continue to increase, the overall student body size eventually will as well.

While the size of the 2019-2020 freshman class won’t be known until the fall census comes out in mid-September, UM spokesperson Paula Short wrote in an email that two other data points suggest that it may be larger than last year’s.

“Registration numbers for new student orientation indicate more participants than last year,” she said, and “UM Housing data (students reserving rooms/paying housing deposits) are ahead of last year’s pace for first-time freshman (UM requires those students to live in campus housing).”

The university did not provide specific data for either of those by the end of the day Tuesday.

Bodnar said the university has worked to improve its “enrollment infrastructure” and raise its profile among high school students. In May alone, he said, the university received 5,000 inquiries from current students. “That bodes well for the future,” he said.

Separately, the University of Montana expects to have enrollment data for the summer 2019 term available late next week.

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