On February 16, 1893, the Montana legislature passed an act creating the Agricultural College of the State of Montana, to be located at Bozeman. The newly established college began instruction on April 17 for a 10 week summer term. Eight students, five men and three women, enrolled for the first session. During the first year, 46 students were enrolled in the college--15 in agriculture, 14 in household economy, 5 in applied science, and 12 undeclared.

Growth was slow in the college's early years. Enrollment exceeded 100 in 1905, with 110 students. Growth later in the decade was slowed by U.S. participation in World War I and the influenza epidemic, but the college grew at a fairly steady pace from 1919 to 1931. The dust bowl and depression slowed growth only slightly; students came to school because they could not find jobs. However, the college suffered severe budget cuts during that period, in part because there were few jobs for college graduates.

Enrollment peaked again in 1941 at 1,732, only to drop sharply when the U.S. entered World War II. By 1943, enrollment was down to 938. The end of the war saw a dramatic increase in enrollment, with 3,121 students entering the college in 1946. Enrollment returned to levels just under 2,000 during the years of the Korean conflict, but growth began at a rapid pace in 1954. By 1965, the college had become a university, and baby boomers flocked to campus. After a slight enrollment dip in the early 1970's, growth continued until enrollment peaked at 11,447 in fall of 1983. Enrollment dropped for four years to 9,878 in fall of 1987 and then began to rise. By fall of 2012, 14,660 students were enrolled at Montana State University in Bozeman--a new headcount enrollment record for the campus at the time.