As the universities of Montana and Montana State prepare to square off on the gridiron next week in Bozeman, the Montana Board of Regents will gather for its winter session to discuss enrollment trends and ways to get more citizens to college.
At the meeting, regents will vote to give MSU authorization to spend $60 million to construct a new residence hall, and to make improvements to its existing residence halls and dining facilities.
The board also will vote to allow Montana Tech to buy property in Billings to house the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology in that city.
But the big discussion items will focus on Complete College Montana, a program aimed at getting the estimated 140,000 Montanans who started but never finished college back into the classroom.
“Our Complete College Montana agenda plays into our commitment with the Legislature and how we demonstrate to the Legislature that we’re spending our state’s investment wisely,” said Kevin McRae, deputy commissioner with the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education.
The program comes at a time when the number of high school graduates in Montana, as in other parts of the country, is shrinking. Here, the number of in-state graduates has dropped by more than 1,000 students since 2008.
The projections suggest a continued decline over the next few academic years before trending back up, reaching a near high in 2023 – numbers comparable to 2007.
“We’ve been aware of that trajectory for some time,” McRae said. “We certainly expect that high school graduating classes will climb back up. We’d expect when those numbers go back up, it’ll be reflected in college enrollment numbers.”
As new programs are launched to bolster the numbers in the meantime, schools across the state continue to struggle with enrollment.
The Montana University System as a whole saw 277 fewer full-time students this year over last, marking a decrease of roughly 0.7 percent. Nine of the state’s 15 campuses saw the decrease.
The number represents an average when all schools are added to the mix. Some schools, like MSU, Montana Tech and MSU-Northern saw an increase in student FTEs while others, including UM, UM-Western and MSU-Billings, saw a decrease.
All told, the six schools affiliated with MSU saw an increase of 486 students, or 2.5 percent, while the six schools affiliated with UM saw a decrease of 625 students, or 3.6 percent.
The state’s three community colleges, including Dawson, Flathead Valley and Miles, also saw a decrease of 138 students, amounting to 6.1 percent.
Broken down by student profile, the system saw 473 more students enroll younger than age 18, an increase of 38.5 percent. The system also saw 15 more students age 50 and older enroll for an increase of 1 percent.
The decreases came in resident students considered first-time freshmen, which fell 3.1 percent. Only MSU, Highlands College and Gallatin College saw an increase in that category, while the state’s 12 other schools, including UM, saw a decrease.
Regents will meet Wednesday and Thursday of next week at the Student Union Building at MSU. The agenda can be found at http://mus.edu/board/meetings/2013/Nov2013/Nov2013.asp.