Montana State University officials announced today that 15,294 students are attending classes at MSU this fall, an enrollment record for the university.
MSU's fall census indicates that the 2013 MSU headcount is up 634 students, or 4.32 percent, from last year's record of 14,660 students. It is the seventh time in the last eight years that MSU has set an enrollment record. In the four years since 2009, MSU has seen a 19.8 percent jump in enrollment.
This year MSU enrollment increased in several categories, including undergraduates, graduate students, freshman class, veterans, Montana residents and non-traditional students.
MSU's College of Engineering is the university's fastest growing college for the second year running with 3,102 students declaring an engineering major. That figure compares to 2,768 students a year ago, which is a 12 percent increase.
“More students are recognizing that engineering offers incredible career opportunities and that they can be involved in the technological advances that are fueling our nation’s growth,” said Brett Gunnink, acting dean and director of the college. “MSU delivers a high quality engineering education that is also accessible and affordable.”
In the past year MSU College of Engineering students have won some of the most prestigious national and international scholarships, including Rhodes, Marshall, Udall and Goldwater scholarships. Last year, MSU engineering students won three of the university's four Goldwater Scholarships and the university is now tied for 10th in the nation for most Goldwater winners with Johns Hopkins University.
MSU substantially increased its retention rate, which is the percentage of first-time, full-time freshmen who continue on to their sophomore year. This year's retention rate was 76.4 percent, up from 74.3 percent a year ago. Freshman-to-sophomore retention is an early indicator that students will complete their degrees and helps the university gauge the success of its academic and student support efforts.
"We are very pleased to learn that both our enrollment and retention rates are at historic highs at Montana State University," said MSU President Waded Cruzado. She said that the two-point rise in retention was particularly noteworthy because it is a difficult statistic to increase over one year. Additionally, increasing retention is a key metric of MSU's new strategic plan.
"This increase indicates that students are having success in school and forming bonds with the university, with faculty, and with fellow students that makes them want to return and earn their degree," Cruzado said.
She said she believed that several university initiatives contributed to the retention increase.
"We have strengthened and added many programs to meet students where they are at and support them individually so they will stay in school, succeed and earn a degree," Cruzado said.
She credited a number of student-based programs for the rise in retention. Those programs include offering free tutoring to students. Last year, more than 2,000 students received more than 17,000 hours of free tutoring. Additionally, the university renovated and expanded its writing center, which has more than 3,500 student visits annually. Also, academic departments invested significant time and effort to redesign key introductory courses, providing additional discussion time by “flipping the classroom” to use in-class time for hands-on learning, and strengthening the curriculum. Courses and sections were added last year and this year to keep students on-track and on-time for their degrees.
Two years ago, the university launched “Freshman 15,” a campaign to encourage students to take 15 credits or more. Applicable to all students, not just freshmen, the campaign highlights that 15 credits cost the same as 12 credits, resulting in a $820 per semester (tuition only) value for resident students and a $2,565 per semester (also tuition only) value for out-of-state students. The savings to students double if they take 18 credits per semester.
The program has positively affected MSU's full-time equivalents -- one FTE is defined as equal to 15 credit hours, a figure used in many higher education formulas. This fall a majority of MSU undergraduate students are enrolled in 15 or more credits. Overall, MSU enrolled 13,302 FTEs at MSU this fall, compared to 12,754 last fall.
Similarly, MSU's 2013-2014 freshman class is the university's largest ever with 2,921 students, which broke last year's record of 2,710 students. The average SAT score for freshmen enrolled full-time at the university was 1715, the average freshman ACT score for the same group was 25.2 and the average GPA was 3.41 -- all the same as last year's incoming class.
MSU continues to be the school of choice for many of the state’s best and brightest high school graduates: 127 of 211 Montana high school graduates offered Montana University System Honor Scholarships, or 60 percent, chose MSU. The scholarship offers a tuition waiver for up to four years to any university or community college in the state. MSU's freshman class also tallied 114 valedictorians, up from 97 a year ago, and 46 salutatorians, up from 34.
In all, MSU saw an increase or held even in most enrollment categories. For instance, the number of undergraduates rose 492 students from last year, for a total of 13,264. There was a 2.35 percent increase in Montana students, for a total of 10,067 resident students this year.
This year's student body also may be one of the most diverse in the university's history. There are increases in Asian (9 percent), and Hispanic students. Native American enrollment dipped slightly (4 percent) in the entire student body. However, ethnicity is up substantially in the 2013 freshman class, where there was a 16 percent increase in Asian students, a 39 percent increase in African-American students and a 4 percent increase in Native American students from the freshman class a year prior.
The university also saw a 42 percent increase in students enrolled in Gallatin College MSU, a two-year college offering associate degrees and one-year professional certificates. Gallatin County voters will consider a one-and-one-half mill levy for Gallatin College on Nov. 5.
"The large student enrollment increase at Gallatin College reflects the continued need for these workforce related two-year degrees and certificate program," said Bob Hietala, dean of Gallatin College. "These programs help meet workforce needs of our local businesses. The proposed county wide mill levy funding will continue Gallatin College’s work in this area and in fact accelerate the development of additional programs and the education of many more Gallatin County students."
Cruzado thanked the MSU faculty and staff for their commitment to students and excellence that she believes contributed to the university's growth over the past year. She also thanked deans, department heads, directors and staff for a smooth start to the semester
"We have many, many wonderful people who day in and out demonstrate the land-grant mission of supporting success for our students and promoting success in our state."
Tracy Ellig (406) 994-5607, firstname.lastname@example.org