The number of students attending state colleges dropped a little this year a trend expected to continue over the next decade.
The Montana university system reports that 41,965 students enrolled for fall classes this year, down 65 students from last year. Enrollment had been steadily increasing before that.
The biggest drop this year was in the Montana State University campuses, while overall University of Montana campus enrollment grew slightly. Community college enrollment grew by 1.2 percent.
The colleges report, however, that students are taking more credits so the so-called “full-time equivalent” enrollment went up this year by 1 percent. More good news for the system is that the percentage of high school graduates going to college is increasing.
Still, the university system is planning for overall decreases in enrollment over the next 10 years, as the number of high school graduates drops by about 20 percent, said Tyler Trevor, associate commissioner of higher education.
“We are going to be losing enrollment, we are going to be losing FTE that’s a foregone conclusion,” Trevor said.
The Montana Board of Regents will be discussing the issue next week as it starts making plans to deal with the issue. The system could try to attract more nontraditional students, more out-of-state students and take other measures, Trevor said.
“The best we could probably do is stay flat overall,” Trevor said.
The biggest single drop in headcount seen at a campus this year was at MSU-Northern in Havre, which saw a 12.5 percent drop in enrollment.
The University of Montana in Missoula saw 1.2 percent fewer students and Montana State University in Bozeman dropped 1.4 percent.
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