MISSOULA – The University of Montana today announced an overall, preliminary fall enrollment of 13,358 students.
Fall 2015 headcount enrollment at the mountain campus was down 3.8 percent, while Missoula College numbers were down 6.5 percent. The headcount for graduate students grew 2 percent.
The UM Office of Planning, Budgeting and Analysis had projected a lower fall enrollment. “We were conservative in our projections because we knew we had large numbers of students graduating again this past year and smaller classes still in the pipeline,” said Dawn Ressel, associate vice president for planning, budgeting and analysis.
UM had a record 3,020 students graduate last year, who also earned a record number of degrees: 3,322.
“In my State of the University address, I identified enrollment as an ongoing challenge,” UM President Royce Engstrom said. “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 has improved.”
Other factors are the declining number of high school graduates across Montana combined with keen recruiting competition, the high popularity of engineering as an incoming major, student loan debt and economic difficulties that have kept several key countries from sending so many of their students to UM.
The University has made significant changes in the past several years to respond to enrollment challenges and to ensure that more students who come to UM are prepared, stay and are successful, Engstrom said. That new and continuing work includes enhanced advising, additional scholarship money, faculty outreach to Montana high schools, additional recruiting visits and new marketing materials. UM continues to invest in and grow its digital channels, which play an increasingly important role in how prospective students make college decisions, Engstrom said.
UM serves many nontraditional students – both those enrolled in credit-bearing courses and those in other education programs. Those students include about 450 high school students taking dual enrollment classes, students who have signed up for the new Montana Code School at UM that began this fall, and Missoula residents over 50 who have signed up for MOLLI programs. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UM (MOLLI) offers noncredit short courses, special member events, lectures and community activities and is growing fast. This fall, MOLLI has more than 800 paid members, up 12 percent from last year, and close to 1,000 registrations for classes.
In addition to enrollment, UM tracks a number of key measures, Engstrom said. “Students’ personal lives and their academic lives matter at UM, so we put our time and money into a great variety of programs every year,” he said. “That’s why we have a campus safety program that’s become a national model for other universities and why student services such as UM Dining received national recognition for going local – spending more than $1 million in food purchases to support Montana producers.
“We celebrate many other metrics. We have 100 percent job placement for our music education students, 100 percent job placement for Missoula College’s culinary students and 100 percent placement for speech-language pathologists – to name only a few,” he said.
“UM’s School of Business Administration is the only program in Montana that is accredited in both business and accounting – excellence earned by fewer than 5 percent of business programs worldwide. And for those students interested in health and medicine, there’s no better place to prepare for medical school. This spring, almost two-thirds of UM’s medical school applicants were accepted, compared with less than half nationally,” he said.
“UM’s faculty are second to none. Last year, three UM professors were named to an elite list of the world’s most influential minds in science. This week, we learned that UM biology Professor Doug Emlen’s book on animal weapons will receive the 2015 Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science.” The society is the oldest and most recognized academic honor society.
Philanthropy is up. Donors are supporting UM students and programs at higher levels than ever before. Private support in fiscal year 2015 totaled $52.6 million, just shy of last year’s record-breaking total of $53.7 million. The UM Foundation received cash gifts, pledges, estate gifts and private grants from more than 14,000 individuals, corporations and private foundations nationwide.
Research at UM also is at record-breaking levels. UM received nearly $83 million in research awards during fiscal year 2015 – an all-time record for the institution. UM research expenditures are up 11 percent, vaulting from $58.3 million in fiscal year 2014 to $64.6 million in 2015.
UM also has a long tradition of community service and civic engagement – another measure of excellence. In 2008, UM was the first institution of higher education in Montana to earn a Community Engagement Classification. UM earned that honor again in 2015. The prestigious ranking came from community service that students performed in 2013-14, when 2,991 UM students volunteered through student-group activities, AmeriCorps service and service-learning courses. In total, UM students spent 221,832 hours volunteering during the academic year.
“It’s important to us that our students are learning from the best faculty in the world, are entering civic life as informed and engaged citizens and are thriving in chosen careers once they leave UM,” Engstrom said.