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UM Enrollment Down Again In 2016

Tom Crady, University of Montana vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, at a press conference announcing enrollment numbers at UM, September 23, 2016.
Eric Whitney
Tom Crady, University of Montana vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, at a press conference announcing enrollment numbers at UM September 23, 2016.

The University of Montana’s new Vice President for Enrollment Tom Crady announced the preliminary headcount for school this fall today.

"The bottom line is, we’re down."

Down 4.8 percent from last year across all campuses overall, and down 6.1 percent in Missoula.

University of Montana enrollment has dropped every year since peaking at more than 15,000 students in 2011.

But, Crady said, enrollment is high enough to align with recent budget projections, meaning the program cuts and layoffs of the kind the University announced last year are unlikely.

"The number one thing I focus on is whether or not we’re going to hit our budget target … so that’s good news from my point of view."

Crady was hired in July after UM’s previous vice president for enrollment retired. Crady said he started too late to have an impact on getting more students into the school this fall, but he knows expectations are high.

"When people say, what are your targets? I’m like, a lot. I’m not going to give you targets at this point because we’re at the point where we need as many students as we possibly can."

Later in today’s press conference, though, Crady did say:

"I would sure like to see a stable enrollment with a 3 percent increase."

The key to growing enrollment, Crady says, is to substantially increase the number of students applying to UM.

"The size of our applicant pool is simply too small, and what that means is that we literally have to double the number of applications we receive. I would like to see us, in the next 18 months, be at 10,000 applications for undergrad."

Crady says, based on his previous experience elsewhere, there are a lot of reasons he’s confident he can boost both the number of applicants to UM, and the number of students who follow through and enroll. 

"And to give you an idea, if I can attract a student to Iowa, at a tuition cost of $55,000 a year, I would be disappointed if I can’t attract a student to Montana, given our cost structure."

One of the reasons the University of Montana has seen its enrollment drop in recent years is because of negative publicity surrounding how the school and law enforcement in Missoula have dealt with sexual assaults on and off campus. Crady says that based on conversations he has with high school counselors and others in the college recruiting world, he thinks Montana has a great reputation with people outside the state.

"We have kind of a model program, right now when it comes to dealing with issues of sexual violence, and we have a good story to tell there. Do I think it is an aspect that’s hurting our enrollment? I’m doubtful of that right now. What I’m more concerned about that might hurt our enrollment is our processing, and how we handle applications and internal workings. You don’t ever want it to stop in one area, we call that binding up. I often hear that, ‘my registration didn’t make it through, I don’t know what the status is, I got my admit letter after I was enrolled in summer school and I was already attending classes.' We’re fixing that."

Last year University officials said they’re hoping to see the school’s downward enrollment curve start to at least level off.

Today new enrollment vice president Tom Crady didn’t offer any specific dates for when that might happen.

The numbers released today put the University of Montana’s fall headcount at 10,329 students – that’s down more than 600 students from last fall, and a 22 percent drop since 2010.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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