BOZEMAN – Montana State University’s spring headcount has set a new record of 15,694 students, marking more than a decade of continuous enrollment growth.

The spring total is up approximately 200 students over last year at this time, according to information provided by university registrar Tony Campeau.

The growth is credited to efforts aimed at keeping students in school and on track to graduate in four years with minimal student debt.

Montana State University students walk through campus during the first day of the 2019 spring semester, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in Bozeman, Mont. (MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez)

“We are of course thrilled to have so many students choose to pursue their studies at Montana State University,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “But we also understand that simply attracting students is not enough. We must also provide the resources to help them succeed and, ultimately, graduate.”

MSU’s retention rate — the number of incoming freshman who return to the university for a second year of study — increased this past fall to 77 percent for first-time/full-time students, the highest percentage in 30 years. Keeping students in school between their freshman and sophomore years has been shown to increase the likelihood those students will continue on with school and ultimately complete their degrees.

MSU’s newly adopted strategic plan, “Choosing Promise,” makes retention a priority. The strategic plan calls for increasing the retention rate for all incoming MSU students by 13 percent by the year 2024, while also increasing the university’s six-year graduation rate by a similar percentage.

Increasing retention rates can be a challenge, Cruzado said, and many universities achieve it by accepting only the most-accomplished and highest-achieving students.

“Montana State does not chase only those privileged students,” she said. “We are committed to our role as a university for all students and to bringing out the full promise and potential in every student who enrolls with us.”

MSU's efforts to keep students in school include programs to help students succeed in math and writing courses; the Sophomore Surge, which pairs upperclassmen mentors with freshmen; and the Freshman 15 program, which encourages students to take more credits per semester to stay on track to graduate in four years. Students pay no additional tuition beyond 12 credits per semester, so taking 15 credits or more credits can result not only in graduating sooner but also savings of thousands of dollars in tuition costs.

MSU’s average student debt for 2017-18 declined by more than $1,200 compared to the prior academic year. MSU administrators attribute the drop to improved graduation rates as well as to the university’s Know Your Debt letters, which are sent to students who borrow at levels higher than those recommended based on projected income or ability to repay loans after graduation. The letters are intended to help students understand their loans and encourage them to work with the Office of Financial Education in the Allen Yarnell Center for Student Success to develop a personal financial plan.

“Our faculty and staff have shown amazing commitment to student learning and to these initiatives,” said Bob Mokwa, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “The dedication of our faculty to providing an intellectually supportive and encouraging learning environment has translated into greater success in the classroom for our students.”

This year, for the first time ever, the university also offered its MSU Debut program in the spring, instead of only at the start of the fall semester. MSU Debut offers students a number of programs to help them find a way to get to know MSU, meet friends, find resources and get involved in the campus community.

“We know that a student’s experience during their first year of college plays a big part in their overall college success,” said Chris Kearns, MSU’s vice president for student success. “Fostering social connections and making students feel at home are important to ensuring students can take part in the transformative learning experience MSU offers.”

Of the 15,694 students enrolled this spring, 13,846 are undergraduates and 1,848 are graduate students. Sixty-one percent of MSU’s students are Montana residents.

MSU also set an enrollment record this past fall with 16,902 students. Historically, spring enrollments are less than the fall count.

- by Michael Becker, MSU News Service -