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MSU-Northern Defies Statewide Trend As Enrollment Inches Upward

Northern is the exception. Enrollment is up, slightly.

Bucking a statewide trend, enrollment at Montana State University-Northern is inching upward.

“This is the first time that we have been up in several years, when most of the campuses in the state are currently experiencing a decline,” said Jim Potter, director of university relations, in an email.

Northern had 1,155 students a decade ago and has seen a slow decline in numbers since.

And now, according to school officials, there are four more students attending Northern than there were last fall, bringing the enrollment to 1,086.

Other campuses saw a decline in student enrollment, as have many colleges and universities across the nation. 

Even Montana State University in Bozeman, which has seen skyrocketing enrollment in recent years, saw a slight decline. This fall’s MSU enrollment of 16,766 is shy of last fall’s 16,902.

A plunge in enrollment continues at the University of Montana. The number of students has dropped from 13,643 in 2012 to 9,247 today.

At Northern, the growth is the result of hard work.

“These enrollment increases don’t just fall out of the sky,” said Northern Chancellor Greg Kegel. ‘These wins are due to an intentional and focused strategic plan.”

Kegel said three years ago, the campus identified growth programs in order to meet the needs of Montana. The college then agreed to change its marketing strategies.  

This year, growth in elementary education, 89 percent, and nursing programs, 50 percent, was reported at Northern. Community leaders long for increases in those programs. There is a shortage and teachers and nurses on the Hi-Line.

Increases were also reported in trade fields, where apprentice programs were expanded to include pipefitting.

The increases in the education, nursing and trades programs are offsetting enrollment “fluctuations” in other programs, said Neil Moisey, vice chancellor and provost.

Figures are still being tallied, said Jim Potter, director of university relations, but it appears that the school’s retention rate is also on the upswing.

The Montana University System is putting a big emphasis on keeping students on campus once they start as freshmen.

Potter credited the Little River Institute for some of the success in retaining Native students.

The institute is soon going to open a new headquarters on the second floor of the Student Union building. About 18 percent of the campus is Native American.

The retention effort also includes a faculty-led tutoring program and special programs operated by Student Support Services and the registrar’s office. When they spot a student who might withdraw because of financial, academic or social reasons, the team steps into action.

According to the start-of-the-school-year statistics:

  • 86.6 percent of Northern students are from Montana.
  • 46.5 percent of the students are from the Hi-Line.
  • 42.5 percent of transfer students are from out of state.
  • 26.4 percent of the students are nontraditional, meaning they are not the usual college-age students.
  • 78 percent of the students are first-generation college students.


Email John Kelleher at (406) 262-7778
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