The University of Montana has released its initial fall semester enrollment numbers, and there was an expected drop in new freshman enrollment.

Dave Kuntz, Director of Strategic Communications at the University of Montana began by emphasizing the retention rate for students in the new semester.

“Our retention rate at UM is at 75 percent this semester, which is a full 7% increase over the past two years,” said Kuntz. “Increasing our student retention in the middle of the pandemic is really incredible. We know that this continued growth and retention is really directly correlated to our commitment to student services. When students step foot on campus here at UM they join our UM family and our entire faculty and staff is there to ensure they succeed, whether that's our bolstered academic advising, a reimagined orientation, the wellness and health care support we're giving students, we know this is making a difference, and that's why we're seeing this retention rate increase, especially amidst the pandemic with all its uncertainty.”

With so much uncertainty, this decline is almost entirely due to a smaller freshman class. I'll add that we did see record applications to UM last spring, especially those out of state applications, which were up almost 15%. But once the pandemic hit, we just weren't able to yield those students as most of them decided to stay closer to home to go to school.

Getting down to actual numbers, Kuntz said the total enrollment is down about four percent.

“The total enrollment is 10,015, which is about a 4% decrease from last fall,” he said, “But I think as we see other universities report their enrollment across the country, you'll see that this is in line with what folks are seeing all across higher education. With so much uncertainty, this decline is almost entirely due to a smaller freshman class. I'll add that we did see record applications to UM last spring, especially those out of state applications, which were up almost 15%. But once the pandemic hit, we just weren't able to yield those students as most of them decided to stay closer to home to go to school.”

Kuntz said an all-out effort has been made at all levels at UM to make sure students are safe and are receiving a quality educational experience.

“We're putting the success of our students really at the center of everything we're doing,” he said. “That starts with the day they stepped foot on campus with orientation. Our reimagined orientation is giving them a better foothold onto life here at U of M. In the services that are available, we've also increased our academic advising strategies to ensure that they can keep up with their academic work, and that's especially important with the ongoing pandemic, the economic fallout, and just all the uncertainty their students are facing.”

It was reported on Wednesday that 24 more UM students have tested positive for COVID 19 since September 10. Kuntz said it was no surprise that some students would contract the virus, but the university is prepared.

“Every day there's a COVID 19 taskforce that meets, and we have a strong partnership with the county where there's daily contact,” he said. “And as you know, we're releasing these numbers in conjunction with the county each week. We have strong protocols in place when it comes to quarantine and isolation. We have the ability to do rapid testing right here on campus at the Curry Health Center. We always knew that there would be little clusters that bubbled up, and our practices are being put into place right now and we feel that the university is a safe place to be and we'll continue to monitor the spread of COVID 19, both on the campus and throughout the community.”

UM published preliminary enrollment data prior to this week’s Montana Board of Regents meeting. Due to many student hardships created by COVID-19, UM is exercising a Board of Regents procedure that allows Montana universities additional time to work with students to finalize their registration status. The final UM census report will be published during the last week of September.

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