MSU Wild

Students travel between classes at Montana State University in this file photo.

Spring enrollment at Montana State University is 15,561 students, the second highest in the Bozeman campus’s history.

MSU reported Thursday its spring 2020 headcount. It shows that the campus has 132 fewer students than in spring 2019, when the university hit an all-time record. The drop is less than 1%.

When spring enrollment is translated into full-time equivalent students (15 class credit hours counts as one FTE student), MSU’s student count of 13,797 was up slightly from a year ago, by 22 students.

Compared to five years ago, the university’s spring headcount has increased 9%, while full-time equivalents grew by 12%, the university reported.

Registrar reports show that MSU is educating 1,238 more students now than five years ago.

Not only is enrollment strong, but student retention is strong, MSU reported. The number of freshman students who started in the fall and returned for the spring semester was 89.6%. Enrollment typically shrinks from fall to spring.

Still, that means more than 10% of freshmen dropped out after one semester.

“We know that the experience a student has in their first year of college is crucial to their long-term success,” MSU President Waded Cruzado said in a statement. “As a university, we do everything we can to provide students the resources they need to be successful, stay in school and earn their degrees.”

While MSU’s report reflected good news, the University of Montana in Missoula continued to struggle. UM reported this week that total headcount there is 10,247 this spring, down 3.7% from spring 2019.

The Missoulian newspaper reported that since 2011, the Missoula campus has seen nearly a 35% decline in student headcount. The number of undergraduates has dropped nearly in half since fall 2010, from 10,891 to 5,789 students.

There were some bright spots at UM this spring. Law school enrollment increased to 232 students, a 5.9% increase over spring 2019. Graduate student numbers grew to 2,530 students, a 3.3% increase.

Retention of UM’s first-year students from fall to spring also improved to 89.4%, its highest rate in four years.

The Missoulian wrote that the Chronicle of Higher Education reported last fall that UM lost more undergraduates in the last decade than any other public flagship campus in the country.

The major difference between Montana’s two largest campuses has been that since 2013, MSU attracted 28% more out-of-state students and lost few in-state students, while UM lost 12% of its out-of-state students and more than 30% of its in-state students, the Missoulian reported.

Both UM and MSU included student enrollment numbers from their affiliated two-year college in their headcount totals.

Missoula College had 1,696 students this spring, down 4.8% from last spring. Gallatin College had 902 students this spring, who were counted in MSU’s total of 15,561, said Michael Becker, MSU spokesman.

MSU has 1,818 graduate students this spring, including non-degree grad students, Becker said. That is fewer than at UM, and down from 1,848 grad students and non-degree grad students at MSU a year ago.

Provost Bob Mokwa credited MSU’s strong enrollment to “our talented, dedicated faculty” and the high quality of academic and research programs “that attract fantastic students form across Montana and from every state.”

MSU emphasized that its graduation rate is among the highest it has seen in decades. As of last fall, 29.7% of Bozeman students graduated after four years. Some 56.1% graduated after six years, a measure used by the federal government to compare colleges.

This story was changed Feb. 14 to show that Gallatin College students actually were included in MSU's headcount total, and to show that MSU's grad student numbers were down this spring compared to a year ago, when non-degree grad students are included.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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