For the first time in more than a decade, Montana State University did not enroll a record-breaking number of students.

The Bozeman flagship announced Friday the fall headcount is its second highest in history at 16,766 students, almost 140 students less than last fall’s 16,902. The dip is attributed to a 4% increase in last academic year’s graduating class.

The annual number of graduates is 17% larger today than it was five years ago.

Further, the university notes it’s graduating more students and at a faster rate than anytime in recent history. Gallatin College, MSU’s two-year college, grew by 12 percent and has more students than ever before.

MSU spokesman Michael Becker said administrators forecasted last spring that there might be fewer full-time students on campus in the fall. He said the drop means the university achieved its goal of graduating students.

“We’re looking at this from the point-of-view that we’re doing our job really well,” Becker said.

MSU broke its own enrollment record 11 straight years until this fall.

The university increased its six-year graduation rate by almost two points from last year, along with incremental increases in its 4- and 5-year graduation rates.

“This year we are celebrating the fact that more students are graduating from Montana State at a faster clip. This is, and always will be, success worthy of celebration,” President Waded Cruzado said.

MSU is Montana’s largest university and has seen enrollment grow by about 25% over a decade. Its rising numbers have contrasted an almost 30% fall in enrollment at the state’s other flagship, the University of Montana in Missoula.

Of the students enrolled at MSU, 59 percent are Montana residents. The retention rate of freshmen who returned to school was slightly less than last year at 76.5%, but is still one of the highest in the last decade.

The university attributes the high retention rate to the implementation of its Freshman 15 program, which encourages students to take 15 credits each semester. Since it began in 2011, 28% more students are taking 15-plus credits each semester.

MSU also reports a 50% increase from last year in high school students taking dual enrollment classes to get college credit.

Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2607. Follow her on Twitter @shay_ragar.

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