Montana regents discuss university enrollment declines

BILLINGS Mont.

Maintaining enrollment numbers at the state’s colleges and universities was a recurring topic of discussion at the state Board of Regents meeting here.

The concern is that the decrease in the number of high school students in the state will lead to declining enrollments at state colleges and universities.

Hardest hit so far is Montana State University-Northern in Havre, where enrollment has fallen from 1,431 students in 2004 to 1,027 this fall, about 100 fewer than expected.

Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Alex Capdeville said there are fewer students graduating from high schools in the Havre area, some are lured away from school by high-paying jobs and some are attracted to strong programs at the Great Falls College of Technology and tribal colleges.

High school enrollment in the Havre area is expected to shrink from 11,000 students to 8,000 by 2020, regents were told.

During a budget committee meeting Wednesday, Capdeville said he has made deep cuts in the school’s budget and has plans to make more. He has also made faculty and staff cuts.

Montana State University President Geoff Gamble said Northern is most affected by a trend that each campus is experiencing to some degree. He said final fall enrollment numbers aren’t in yet for MSU, but it looks like it will be 2 percent short of the target.

He said MSU is taking many steps to help more students succeed and graduate, bringing math and chemistry tutors into dorms when students were having trouble in those subjects. He said class sizes also were reduced in English composition.

Gamble and University of Montana President George Dennison cautioned regents about the affect of a two-year tuition freeze for in-state students.

Out-of-state tuition of $16,000 subsidizes Montana students, and it can’t be raised indefinitely or Montana universities will “price ourselves out of the national market,” Gamble said.

The board on Friday approved a $1.18 billion budget for the university system, about $60 million more than a year ago.

–Associated Press



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