MSU enrollment falls

Friday, October 4, 2019

Their View

Enrollment at Montana State University has been on a steady upward trajectory since 2007 _ until now. This fall, the official headcount dropped by 136 students.

Bigger has always been perceived as better when it comes to enrollment. More students mean more tuition, room and board and state support dollars. The recordbreaking enrollment has translated into tens of millions of dollars in new construction of dorms and food service and academic buildings.

Even so, this year’s enrollment dip could be taken as good news. As MSU officials point out, the decrease is at least in part due to students graduating faster. Last year’s graduating class was 4% larger than the previous year’s. When students graduate sooner, they do so with less debt and get a jump on their careers.

But the pause in growth also gives the institution an opportunity to catch up on infrastructure. In the works are more dorm space and classrooms, both of which have been in short supply during the enrollment growth. It also gives the surrounding community a pause to catch up.

Since the string of recordbreaking years began, some 4,500 more students have been added to MSU’s enrollment. That’s a lot of people for a city the size of Bozeman to absorb. It has translated into more traffic snarls and longer lines in stores and restaurants. A pause in the enrollment growth will give local government a chance to complete traffic improvement work and developers time to complete apartment construction to alleviate the rental crunch that has plagued the community.

But there is concern the latest count could signal the beginning of a trend. Colleges and universities nationwide experienced an enrollment spike during the Great Recession when many decided to further their education after they lost their jobs. But enrollment has been declining _ severely in some cases _ since the recession ended.

MSU has been a notable exception to that trend, largely due to its reputation as a science, engineering and tech school _fields high school educators have been steering their students toward. But smaller high school graduating classes may make it difficult for the university to continue its growth arc.

On balance the pause in growth is a net positive that will give MSU and the community a breather. But university officials should pay careful attention to the numbers and continue to actively recruit new students in the future.

— Bozeman Daily Chronicle