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Montana State University spring enrollment sets all-time record

Posted at 1:37 PM, Feb 14, 2024

BOZEMAN — Spring enrollment at Montana State University set a new all-time record, with 16,110 students attending classes at the state's largest university.

It's the first time in the university's 131-year history that the spring headcount has surpassed 16,000. The new total represents a 3% increase over last spring, or 393 students.

It's the fourth consecutive year of spring enrollment growth for Montana State, and the eighth year in a row that the spring total has topped 15,000 students. MSU is the largest university in the state of Montana and enrolls more Montanans than any college or university in the state, public or private.

"We are immensely proud of this spring enrollment because it shows how hard students are working to pursue higher education, stay enrolled and make progress toward their college degree from Montana State University," said MSU President Waded Cruzado.

While it is a significant investment of time and money, a university degree also offers countless benefits, Cruzado added.

"A college education transforms lives,” she said. “College graduates fortify our communities, state and nation. We are both thrilled and honored that students choose Montana State as the place where their journeys will begin."

The spring enrollment record comes on the heels of an all-time record enrollment set this past fall at 16,798. Enrollment is counted after the 15th day of classes each semester. Spring enrollment is smaller than fall numbers due to students graduating in December and other factors.

The overall headcount was not the only record set this spring. MSU's count of undergraduate students exceeded 14,000 for the first time at 14,127. And MSU's total full-time equivalent, or FTE, students also hit a high of 14,216. FTE is figured by dividing the total number of credits taken by all MSU students by 15, which is the number in a full-time course load.

A record FTE enrollment is a sign that MSU students are taking more courses per semester, which not only puts them on track to graduate in four years but also saves them money on tuition. Students do not pay tuition for credits beyond the first 12 they take per semester.

"This is the first time we've ever seen FTE enrollment in the spring cross 14,000, and that's exciting because it means more MSU students will graduate on time," said Steve Swinford, MSU vice president for student success.

Swinford added that MSU has been encouraging students for over a decade to take more credits per semester through its Freshman 15 program. Back in 2011, when the program began, fewer than half of MSU's first-time students were taking at least 15 credits per semester. This past fall, more than 80% of those students were.

"Taking a higher credit load each semester is one of the most effective ways students and families can keep the cost of higher education down," Swinford added.

MSU's number of first-time students who remained for a second semester of classes remained steady this spring at an impressive 90.2%.

But if you look at all students who could have enrolled in spring classes -- minus those who graduated in December, for example -- the retention rate jumps to 92.8%. That figure is up by nearly a percentage point compared to the prior spring.

"To put that figure in perspective, that particular increase helped MSU keep the equivalent of about seven sections of a University Seminar class or about two floors of South Hedges," said Swinford, referring to one of the university's largest residence halls. "That's remarkable persistence from our students."

One of the keys to keeping so many students in school was MSU's work advising students and pre-registering them for classes, according to Robert Mokwa, MSU provost.

Mokwa noted that MSU has streamlined its registration process through the university's NavMSU app and has increased the capacity in key courses that students need to graduate on time.

“Every day, a lot of effort at MSU goes toward helping our students. From the deans and faculty members to the advisers and student success staff, it’s really an all hands on deck approach,” Mokwa said. "When students have the help they need finding the right classes, it lets them spend their time and energy focusing on their studies instead of on registration."

The number of Montana resident students attending classes this spring was 8,099, an increase of approximately 1% since last spring. Additionally, the university's number of dual enrollment students jumped 26% this spring, up to 689. Dual enrollment lets Montana high schoolers earn college and high school credit at the same time.

Graduate student spring enrollment at MSU -- those students seeking master's degrees and doctorates or otherwise pursuing education beyond a bachelor's degree -- was the third highest it has ever been at 1,983. Overall, spring graduate enrollment at MSU is up 7% over the past five years.

Gallatin College MSU, which offers programs in career technical education and vocational training in five off-campus locations across the Gallatin Valley, saw its highest spring enrollment as well at 644, up 8% since the prior spring. Gallatin College MSU has been the university's fastest growing college for years.

MSU spring enrollment by the numbers:

  • Overall headcount: 16,110 (new spring record). 
  • Undergraduate headcount: 14,127 (new spring record). 
  • Graduate headcount: 1,983. 
  • Gallatin College MSU headcount: 644 (new spring record). 
  • Montana resident students: 8,099. 
  • Dual enrollment headcount: 689 (new spring record). 
  • Largest three colleges: Letters and Science (3,287), Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering (3,122) and Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship (2,044).