University of Montana President Seth Bodnar offered his mid-year campus update Tuesday.
"I can tell you with confidence in this room – we’re going to win," Bodnar said.
UM could use a good win. Enrollment at the Missoula campus has dropped more than 30 percent since 2011. That shrinking enrollment-related revenue has led to a $10 million budget shortfall, proposals to consolidate programs and eliminate dozens of faculty positions.
As if that weren’t enough, UM’s McGill Hall was closed for more than a month this winter after officials detected high levels of asbestos in dust.
Bodnar Tuesday didn’t downplay these challenges, instead asking faculty, staff and students to take a broad view of the momentum towards stability that he says UM is making.
"And the way you get there is by breaking down challenges into their component parts and tackling them bit by bit. There’s no magic in this, just persistent discipline."
UM has identified several priorities to guide its forward momentum; the first of which emphasizes student success.
Bodnar says UM is bolstering its relationship with Helena College.
"As we look at the places Helena College students are transferring to – the ones who want to go from two year to four year – for the first time in over a decade, the University of Montana is the transfer university of choice for Helena College."
Bodnar says UM is overhauling its student advising and freshman orientation programs.
Despite UM’s enrollment slide, the rate of students staying at the University from fall to spring semester increased almost two percent.
"It resulted in higher than expected revenue for the University, which is good, but I’m also excited about it because it’s a sign that these things are starting to take effect," Bodnar said. "I’m confident that over time we will continue to see our retention, our persistence our competition rates increase significantly that’s what we’re here to do."
In an interview after Tuesday’s update, Bodnar told MTPR that increasing enrollment is only one several important priorities for UM.
"We often only default, 'how many do you have and how does that compare to what other institutions have?' That, to me, is not the comparison. Once we have a level of enrollment that ensures financial stability, again which we’re working toward, then it’s about quality and that student experience and I’m really excited about the progress we’re making there."
Tuesday’s update included an opportunity for tabletop discussion among participants, who could also submit their input to the University.