What is Montana State University’s secret to 10 straight years of record enrollment?

KGVO News reached out to MSU officials for a response, and one strategy is called ‘The Freshman 15’.

Spokesman Mike Becker said MSU does everything possible in the way of student retention, working to make sure students stay on campus for their full four years.

“One of our biggest initiatives to encourage retention rates is called ‘The Freshman 15’ campaign,” Becker said. “It’s a play on words about how freshmen traditionally put on extra weight during their freshman year, but we took that name and we repurposed it to a program that encourages students to take more credits per semester. In the Montana University System, after you take 12 credits, there’s no additional cost for more credits. So, we encourage students to take at least 15 credits per semester, and this keeps students on track to graduate in four years. We want to see college freshmen walk out of MSU in four years with a degree in hand.”

Becker said this saves time and thousands of dollars of tuition and years in paying off student loans.

The University of Montana has a program called ‘Four Bear’ that also encourages students to take more credits in order to graduate in four years.

Becker also explained why MSU deliberately dialed back freshman recruitment in 2017.

“We’ve seen continuous record enrollment for the last 10 years and with student numbers increasing by sometimes over 500 students a year, we found ourselves on a campus that’s really crowded,” he said. “We weren’t necessarily ready for that many more students. Classes are at a premium, residence hall beds are at a premium. So, in order to allow us to plan better for the future, we deliberately dialed back our recruitment efforts this year, and we’ve concentrated on retaining students so they come back year after year.”

Becker addressed the issue of MSU being focused more on agriculture and engineering while the University of Montana's primary focus is on on liberal arts and the humanities.

“Students are human,” he said. “They make their choices like anyone else,” he said. “I don’t think that says anything negative about an orientation that bends towards the liberal arts or the humanities at all, but I do think MSU has been tremendously fortunate to be the choice of so many Montana students, and we really do our best while they’re here to get the skills they need through tutoring, through advisorships, internships and community service, that when they do go out looking for their first jobs, they are highly employable. I think that speaks of the people who put so much time and effort into those programs here at MSU every day.”

The University of Montana, the flagship campus of the Montana University System, has been struggling with reduced enrollment for several years, but is making extra efforts to increase the number of students, including the hiring of enrollment specialist Dr. Tom Crady, whose innovations have helped to boost freshman enrollment in the fall semester, with more plans to build on that success.