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Enrollment down at UM – again

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Posted: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 11:30 pm | Updated: 8:48 pm, Thu Mar 14, 2013.

Enrollment is down for the third consecutive semester at the University of Montana with a spring headcount of 14,201, leaving 505 fewer students attending the University than in spring 2012.

While enrollment numbers are a part of the budget equation, University officials said these spring numbers will not play any deciding factors when it comes to budgeting for next year.

"Spring is kind of an interesting creature," said Dawn Ressel, the associate vice president for Planning, Budgeting and Analysis. "You don't necessarily bank too much of your planning on it, we rely on the fall. So I don’t think this is going to change any of the planning we have been talking about for 2014."

After seeing enrollment decrease last fall, Ressel said that drop was expected to carry over into the spring as well. Peggy Kuhr, the vice president for integrated communications, said the University was ready for this.

"The key was thinking ahead and planning ahead which is why we're not seeing panic now," Kuhr said. "Really the work was done in the fall to prepare for the spring and I don’t think there will be anything that will affect students."

Kuhr said to know what next year’s budget will look like all factors will have to be considered, something UM officials are still waiting on.

The legislature is expected to decide later this spring what type of funding the Montana University System will receive and whether or not state employees will go home with a 5 percent pay increase.

Stepping back from all those uncertainties, Kuhr said the spring enrollment results brought some encouragement. The rate of student retention was higher than what the University experienced from fall semester 2011 to fall 2012, which was a drop of 4.6 percent compared to the spring 2012 to spring 2013 drop of 3.4 percent.

Kuhr, Ressel and other UM officials echo the belief that these improved numbers are a possible result of the retention efforts the University has increased.

The assistant vice president for enrollment at UM, Jed Liston, said with the last few semesters of enrollment dropping, the Student Affairs Administration has continued to enhance outreach programs.

"We want prospective students to realize what incredible opportunities and value is provided at the University of Montana," Liston said.

In addition to outreach, Sharon O'Hare, the executive director of the Office for Student Success, said the OSS is around to keep students coming back and to see them through to graduation.

"Ironically, graduating a higher number of students in a year, which is our first priority, can contribute to a drop in enrollment," O'Hare said. "While our number of new students has dropped in the last two years, it’s actually the case that we are returning a higher percentage of continuing students."

Students are first introduced to the OSS during the spring of their senior year in high school where they take their placement test and register in core courses before arriving to orientation.

"After orientation, OSS probably drops in the background of their consciousness." O'Hare said. "But students continue to experience the benefits of our programs."

The OSS overseas nearly all the tutoring programs on campus such as STUDY JAM, free tutoring offered for students in high enrollment courses, and the Writing Center tutors.

The OSS also runs Four Bear, the University's four-year gradation plan. Last year 95 percent of the freshmen that went through Four Bear returned for their sophomore year compared to the 68 percent of non-Four Bear freshmen.

The UM Provost, Perry Brown said that while the spring 2013 enrollment numbers improvement can't be viewed as a trend yet, programs like those mentioned above continue to help.

"We are on our way up from the drop we experienced in fall 2012," Brown said. "These enrollment figures do not decide anything, but they begin to ease some concerns about the potential of declining enrollment and point in a positive direction."

katheryn.houghton@umontana.edu

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