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Engstrom: Enrollment A Challenge, Liberal Arts Remain Fundamental At UM

University of Montana's Main Hall.
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio
University of Montana President Royce Engstrom delivered the annual state of the university address today.

University of Montana President Royce Engstrom didn’t mince words today about enrollment during his annual State of the University address.

"No doubt about it, enrollment is our biggest challenge and our biggest opportunity. Put simply, we need more students," Engstrom said.

UM has struggled with declining enrollment since 2010.

For instance, enrollment last spring semester was off by almost 8 percent from the same time in 2015. The enrollment struggles have led to budget shortfalls and faculty cutbacks.

UM recently hired a new vice president for enrollment management and student affairs to stem the bleeding. In a news conference after his speech, Engstrom said Tom Crady’s mission goals are very clear.

"An upward trajectory in enrollment in just about every category. What we want to do is to make sure that we are getting our full market share of Montana students coming out of high school. We want to be sure to increase our non-resident student population into the 30 to 35 percent range, which is a pretty significant increase over where we are now."

About 25 percent of UM students currently come from out of state.

Engstrom says UM is investing in more effective marketing and communications to meet that 5 to 10 percent increase.

During his speech, Engstrom insisted the liberal arts and sciences will always be at the core of UM’s mission.

"Indeed the most precious outcome of a college education is the ability to think critically, to formulate and solve problems, to communicate and to develop a deep understanding of the human condition."

But Engstrom also noted that students are demanding majors that lead more directly to jobs. For instance he pointed out that a new neuroscience major launched last year at the undergraduate level has attracted more than 30 majors.

"Perhaps the most in-demand set of programs in today’s world, the health professions provide opportunity for growth at UM."

Engstrom says only 8 percent of UM’s course offerings are available online. He describes that as “underdeveloped” and wants that portfolio bumped to 20 percent.

Autumn semester classes at UM start Monday.

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