BOZEMAN – Montana State University has set a new enrollment record, with 16,902 students on campus this fall, while keeping students in school and graduating them on time at the highest rates in modern university history.
MSU’s fall headcount is up 1.2 percent, or 199 students, over last fall’s census. The figure marks 11 straight years of enrollment growth for the Bozeman campus.
The headcount includes the second-most Montana students enrolled in the university’s 125-year history. A total of 10,177 Montana students are attending classes at MSU, comprising 60 percent of the student body.
MSU’s number of American Indian and Alaska Native students also increased to 776, a jump of 9 percent and a new record. Increasing Native American enrollment and access to higher education is one of the goals in MSU’s strategic plan.
“We are humbled that so many students and their families choose Montana State University,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “Our continued success is due in large part to our dedicated faculty and staff who, appreciative of the promise of the land-grant mission, work every day to open doors of opportunity for our students and provide them with the tools to change their lives.”
The university also saw an increase in the number of students returning to MSU for a second year of school, a measure known as “retention.” Some 77.2 percent of first-time, full-time students returned for their second year — the highest percentage in modern MSU recordkeeping. The university has made increasing freshman-to-sophomore retention one of its priorities because it increases the likelihood that students will ultimately finish their degrees.
A major contributor to student retention is MSU’s Freshman 15 campaign, which encourages students to take at least 15 credits per semester to keep them on track to graduate in four years and save them thousands of dollars in educational, housing and food costs. Montana University System students do not pay any additional tuition beyond their first 12 credits per semester.
When the Freshman 15 campaign launched in 2011, only 50 percent of MSU freshmen took 15 credits or more. This fall, that number is 72 percent — a new record.
“As a university, we’ve made a concerted effort to offer programs and services aimed at keeping students in school and on their ways to degrees,” said Chris Kearns, vice president of student success. “We will do our best to make sure that no student leaves for a lack of academic or personal help.”
Other notable progress toward a strategic goal came in MSU’s graduation rates, which increased to record numbers, according to the new data. The university’s four-year graduation rate jumped more than 2 points to 29.3 percent this fall. In all, the four-year rate has gone up nearly 10 points in the past six years. At the same time, MSU’s six-year graduation rate, the figure tracked by the federal government, also went up 2.6 points to 54.7 percent.
“I often tell parents that we love having their kids here at MSU, but I want them out of here in four years, degree in hand,” Cruzado said. “This year’s numbers show that our students are increasingly on that path — forming bonds with the university that keep them coming back, taking heavier course loads and completing their degrees.”
Along with increased graduation rates, MSU’s average student debt for 2017-18 declined by more than $1,200 compared to the prior academic year. The university attributed the drop not only to graduation rates but also to the university’s Know Your Debt letters, which are sent to students who are borrowing more than their peers. The letters, which have won praise from Bloomberg Business News, help students understand their loan debt and encourage them to work with the financial aid office on debt counseling.
“Staff in our Office of Financial Aid have also worked diligently to counsel students on taking out loans only for what they need, not all they are eligible for. Changing the conversation has been very helpful to our students,” Cruzado said.
MSU’s incoming students bring with them some of the best academic scores in university history. This fall’s freshman class averaged a GPA of 3.54, SAT scores of 1,233 and ACT scores of 25.2.
Among MSU’s Montana students entering are 143 recipients of the prestigious Montana University System Honor Scholarship, which grants four years of tuition to an eligible state campus. MSU garnered 71 percent of all Honor Scholarship recipients in the state this fall. MSU also welcomed 10 National Merit Scholarship finalists.
“This fall’s entering class ranks solidly among the most academically accomplished classes MSU has seen in the past three decades,” said Robert Mokwa, executive vice president of academic affairs and provost.
In addition to overall enrollment, highlights from MSU’s fall census include: