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MSU sees record growth

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Students walk between classes during the first day of class Monday, August 28, 2017. MSU set a new fall enrollment record of 16,703 this year. MSU photo by Adrian Sanchez Gonzalez Students walk between classes during the first day of class Monday, August 28, 2017. MSU set a new fall enrollment record of 16,703 this year. MSU photo by Adrian Sanchez Gonzalez

Courtesy MSU

Montana State University has enrolled a record number of students once again this fall, while also establishing the highest graduation and retention rates, and other measures of student success, seen in a generation.

MSU’s fall headcount is 16,703, a total that’s 2-percent above last fall’s count and one that marks 10 years of continuous enrollment growth for the campus, which has set enrollment records in 13 out of the last 15 years.

Additionally, MSU has the greatest number of Montana residents enrolled in the institution’s 124-year history: 10,251. Those students come from all 56 counties of the state.

“More students than ever before now have access to life-changing education at MSU,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “Students and their families are coming to MSU because they understand that the faculty and staff of MSU are committed to helping students stay in school and graduate from this world-class research and land-grant university.” 

One of the university’s most visible efforts to help students stay in school and graduate on time is its “Freshman 15” marketing campaign. The campaign encourages students to take at least 15 credits per semester, which keeps them on track to graduate in four years and can save them thousands of dollars in educational costs. Montana University System students pay no additional tuition for credit loads greater than 12 per semester.

This fall, 71 percent – a new record – of MSU’s new, first-time, full-time freshmen are enrolled in 15 or more credits, compared to 50 percent back in 2011 before the Freshman 15 campaign began.

MSU’s students are staying in school in greater numbers as well. Of last fall’s first-time, full-time students, 76.9 percent returned for their sophomore year, the highest percentage recorded in contemporary records and an increase over 2016’s figure.

“If a student enrolls, but does not return to finish their degree, then we have not done our job,” said Chris Kearns, vice president of Student Success. “There are many reasons students may leave college, but we aspire to make sure none of them have to do with a lack of support from the university.”

MSU’s on-time, four-year graduation rate jumped by more than 2 points this fall to a record 26.9-percent.

“Over the past 30 years, it has become the norm across our nation for students to take five and six years to earn their degrees,” Cruzado said. “That ends up costing students in extra educational costs, delays in entering the workforce and, on the other end of their professional careers, reaching their highest years of earnings one to two years later than someone who finished in four years.

“This culture of the five- and six-year degree is hard to overcome, but we are pushing, urging, supporting and inspiring our students to graduate on time. I tell all the parents at our orientations: ‘We love your students, but we want them out of here – degree in hand – in four years,’” Cruzado said.

As MSU grows, so does the quality of its student body. This fall’s freshmen have the highest average GPA – 3.53 – in the past 27 years of modern record keeping. Incoming freshmen also averaged a 1,213 on their SATs and a 25.2 on their ACT tests – scores that put them solidly among the most accomplished entering classes in the past 27 years.

Out of all of the state’s Montana University System Honor Scholarship recipients, 71 percent of them chose to attend MSU over the other eight campuses of the university system. The scholarship covers recipients’ tuition for up to four years at the campus of their choice in Montana. In addition, the university welcomed 13 National Merit Scholarship finalists.

“The numbers and trends speak volumes about the quality of our academic programs, our faculty and the educational opportunity MSU provides,” said Robert Mokwa, executive vice president of Academic Affairs and Provost. “Many people across campus — advisers, counselors, health providers and staff in facilities, residence life, campus security and more — work each day to fulfill MSU’s mission to better the lives of our students and serve the state of Montana.”

In addition to overall enrollment, MSU set a number of other records this fall:

  • MSU enrolled 12 percent more veterans this fall compared to last, setting a record of 643 attending the university.
  • American Indian and Alaska Native students chose MSU in record numbers. A total of 712 students are attending, a 10 percent jump compared to last fall. MSU also welcomed record numbers of Asian-American students (647), Hispanic students (700) and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students (118).
  • MSU awarded a record number of degrees last year: 3,181, including 84 doctorates and 2,372 bachelor’s degrees. Expanding the scale, breadth and quality of doctoral education is one of MSU’s strategic goals.
  • MSU’s fastest growing college was Gallatin College, whose enrollment grew 23 percent since last fall and has nearly tripled since 2012. Students seeking two-year associate degrees and one-year professional certificates now number 634.
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