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LARRY MAYER, Gazette Staff

Montana State University Billings officials were optimistic about enrollment figures on Thursday, bolstered by Billings' two-year college.

A release from the university said that 4,401 students are enrolled this fall at both MSUB's main campus and at City College. That's up 35 students from last fall.

The figures are hopeful when taken as a whole, but the MSUB main campus has 133 fewer students than it did last fall. Shannon Wilcox, university director of communications, said that the overall number of full-time equivalent students were down as well.

“We were off projection 2 (percent) to 2.6 percent less than anticipated," Wilcox said.

That means the equivalent of 87 fewer full-time students at MSUB and City College combined, according to figures from Wilcox.

FTEs are used for university budgeting and takes into account the credit loads of part-time students.

Most gains came at City College, which saw a bump of 170 students since the fall of 2016.

The overall student count reflects university officials' hopes that enrollment would stabilize in 2017 and 2018 after a long-term downward trend.

"The fall headcount numbers are a step in the right direction," said MSUB Provost Robert Hoar in a press release. "It shows that more students are choosing MSUB.

"We are also encouraged by improvements in student retention, which has been a focus for our faculty and staff. Our student success initiatives are progressing. These are the indicators that we want to see trending up."

Thursday marked the 15th day of enrollment, when universities lock in fall numbers.

FTE numbers will come into play in the near future as the university system deals with state budget cuts. Thursday's press release did not include the FTE count.

At MSUB, it's often said that the traditional student is non-traditional. That means that a higher-than-average number of students at MSUB aren't people who enter college straight out of high school. Many attend part-time while working or raising a family.

The characteristics of part-time students can affect the final FTE figure in different ways. For example, City College gained two students from last fall to spring but lost about 136 FTE over the same period, according to university system data.

It depends on how many credits each part-time student takes.

More of the students this year attend part time, according to MSUB's release. That includes 100 more dual-credit students through the High School Connections program.

In its release, MSUB also touted its Native American enrollment, which is up by 10 percent. Resident undergrad enrollment continued to grow as well, and the most Yellowstone County students in three years are attending, according to MSUB.


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.