The University of Montana is looking for ways to mend a sinking ship, and out-of-state and international students may help fix the school’s budget problem.
The school has been spending and bringing in a lot of money, with its resources stretched thinly over record enrollments just two years ago.
Then, last year, a line broke. Enrollment dropped, and the school has been baling out water from fallen tuition revenues since.
UM President Royce Engstrom warned faculty to plan for dramatic budget cuts. The school is looking for ways to rebuild its revenue streams. It’s likely the school will lean on out-of-state student dollars to help steady the ship.
In fall 1998, 2,885 undergraduate students at UM’s main campus came from out of state. Another 385 were non-resident graduate students.
Close to 600 fewer undergraduates are from out of state this fall, a drop that represents about $12 million annually by current tuition numbers.
Non-residents pay 3.5 times more for tuition — $21,078 in tuition and fees alone this year — than do resident undergrads. While in-state enrollment last fall was 9,858 on the main campus, 2,303 non-residents accounted for about 45 percent of the money brought in by undergraduate tuition.
The school is going to spend money to both recruit out-of-state students and offer low-paying scholarships to entice non-residents to come here.
“We’re not expecting a significant growth of resident students overall in Montana,” said Kevin McRae, Montana University System communications director.
More Montana high school graduates attend UM today than a decade ago, but 389 fewer enrolled in 2012 than the year prior, according to its data digest.
The number of in-state students dropped from 2011 to 2012, and it’s possible the trend will continue.
Enrollment has dropped in Montana’s high schools continuously between 2001 and 2012, according to data from the Montana Office of Public Instruction. So the pool for future in-state recruits to UM may be shrinking.
The looming cuts come after the University was both the biggest and fastest-growing in the MUS, a spot McRae said makes budgeting difficult.
“You have to ask whether being the biggest and fastest growing is a sustainable trend,” McRae said.
Jed Liston, UM’s assistant vice president for enrollment, said his office is receiving more resources to help combat the enrollment issues.
“The resources we’ve gotten are from a multitude of different areas, so it’s not just one place,” Liston said.
Liston wouldn’t comment on how much money his office was given. Liston and McRae mentioned dips in enrollment are temporary and always fluctuate.
UM also had the fewest freshmen enrolled for fall 2012 since before 1997. Paired with the drop in high school enrollment, out-of-state and international students’ dollars are increasingly attractive to UM budget directors.
Enrollment estimates for the school’s next fiscal year were due March 15, but the school hadn’t updated the form on its site, so it’s unclear whether the school expects an increase or decline for the coming fall. Early numbers are unreliable, however, and it will be months before the school has a clear picture of fall 2013 enrollment.
The 14-year decline in out-of-state enrollment hasn’t been continuous. The school hit a low point of non-resident enrollment over that span in fall 2007, when 2,118 out-of-state undergraduates paid the higher tuition dollars to come to school here.
The school is now working at getting more students here, and keeping them here.
Since 2002, there are 65 fewer students on the main campus. Missoula College enrollment dropped 336 students from 2011-2012, but has increased from 933 in 2002 to 2,467 in fall 2012.
The school this year is lobbying hard to pass a nearly $100 million bill that would give $29 million to UM to build a new Missoula College campus.
Some students are also cutting their time and money in half by going to the 2-year Missoula College instead of obtaining an undergraduate degree.
In 2002, 78.5 percent of students at UM were undergrads. In fall 2012, 68.2 percent were undergrads. Over that time, the percentage of students attending what was formerly called the College of Technology increased by 9.4 percent.
“It is complex in terms of trying to project the number of students. That may be the most difficult piece” of budget building, said Mick Robinson, MUS deputy commissioner for fiscal affairs.
Even after tuition brought in $993,742 less than expected last year, the school budgeted for an expected increase in tuition dollars brought in to increase $1,601,409 for 2013.
After consecutive enrollment drops this year, it’s clear the school will bring in far less this budget year. It’s not clear what the school will expect to bring in, but it will spend the coming months trying to entice its accepted out-of-state students.