UM Incoming Class Stabilizes, Retention Jumps 3%

September 24, 2019

UM saw positive enrollment indicators in regards to the incoming freshman class and retention.

MISSOULA – The University of Montana saw a stabilization of the incoming class this fall semester, with the number of students who have finalized registration up 2.7%. Retention, described as the percentage of students returning to campus for their sophomore year, is up significantly: 71.4% compared to 68.4% last year.  

Cathy Cole, UM vice president for enrollment management and strategic communications, updated the campus community on enrollment figures and provided information about a shift in the University’s enrollment management model and the way students are accounted for at census.

“We are changing to a more proven methodology to report our enrollment, one I have used at past institutions and that many institutions around the country use,” she said. “It is much more accurate and gives a true picture of our enrollment.”

The key difference is reporting only students who have finalized their registration and payment by the census date. Previously, the census counts included students who were registered but had not finalized these details. That made revenue projections, student headcount estimates and retention data more challenging to accurately calculate, as some of the data inputs were subjective. With the new methodology, the data are completely objective.

Cole noted that inconsistencies with payment deadlines, delays in financial aid and a confusing cancellation policy over the past several years contributed to the challenges of reporting census data.

“We’re addressing these issues by employing the best practices in strategic enrollment management,” she said. “In doing so, we’ll get prospective students to engage earlier, commit to the institution sooner and finalize their registration well before the 15th day of instruction and our census calculations. That will have downstream benefits to student success, retention and persistence to graduation.”

UM released numbers reflecting both the new methodology and the traditional report this fall at It will transition fully to reporting only using the new methodology beginning in the spring.

Cole also was optimistic about the composition of incoming students. The number of international students increased 8.9%, reflecting an increase of 64 students. The number of Native American students also was up at both the mountain campus and Missoula College. The number of new freshmen coming to UM under WUE, the Western Undergraduate Exchange, also rose sharply – 287 students compared with 146 a year ago.

“We have made progress in two areas that are vital to improving enrollment at UM now and into the future: stabilizing the incoming class and improving retention,” Cole said. “We have more work to do, but I’m very pleased with the progress we’re seeing this year.”


Contact: Cathy Cole, UM vice president for enrollment management and strategic communications, 406-243-4023,; Paula Short, UM director of communications, 406-243-5806,