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State of UM Address Says Enrollment is Key Challenge

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MISSOULA -

University of Montana President Royce Engstrom delivered his State of the University Address Friday, touching on strengths, challenges and new developments moving in to the 2013-14 school year.

Engstrom's address was significantly more optimistic compared to last year, when sexual assault and an investigation into the University's response, were the topics on everyone's minds.

Friday's speech, however, highlighted increasing rates of student success and UM's commitment to grow even larger, with the UM2020 strategic plan and more student scholarships.

"I will tell you right now that today's message is going to be one of optimism and forward thinking. The upcoming year is going to be one of progress and excitement," Engstrom said.

President Engstrom says UM already has student success numbers to boast.

"Data from the Commissioner's Office for the entering class of Fall 2011 shows that among first-time, full-time, bachelor-degree seeking freshmen, our freshman-to-sophomore retention rate is 76%, the highest in the history of UM and the highest in the Montana University System. This is still no high enough, our target is >80%."

However, as the University shows improved rates of retaining students, Engstrom says the main challenge for the upcoming year will be attracting and enrolling new students.

"We have revamped our web presence and our digital outreach for communicating with prospects and with the public. We are increasing our outdoor, TV, and newspaper advertising. The collegiate world has gotten considerably more competitive and frankly, we have some catching up to do," Engstrom said.

The number of students enrolled at the University has financial ramifications for the school as UM's budget is enrollment dependent.

Engstrom reports the budget projections from last spring are still solid,  though enrollment numbers for the 2013-14 year will not be totaled until the 15th day of class.

The total forecasted budget is $161 million, which is about the same as last year.

In regards to the challenges of student safety and campus atmosphere which were the hot topic of last year's address, Engstrom says the University has implemented new programs to address these concerns.

"We have a newly rewritten student-conduct code with refined procedures, a new student-athlete code, and a new Title IX policy. Independent of any investigation, we have written a new Emergency Operating Plan to cope with either natural or human-initiated emergencies."

In the end, Engstrom's message was one of optimism and forward progress.

"We have the responsibility to become a great university, and we have the opportunity before us. Now is our time. Let's build for the future, full speed ahead!"

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