University Relations and Communications

Freshmen Down, Transfers Up, Budget Stable

 October 8, 2015 


Aaron Clingingsmith, University Relations, 657-2243


Dean of students, Kathy Kotecki, walks with a group of students across campus early this fall.



MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Montana State University Billings has commenced the 2015-16 academic year with 4,429 students.  At its official 15th class-day count, City College enrolled 1,275 students while the university campus had 3,154 students enrolled. 


A year-to-year comparison shows the total number of two-year degree seekers at City College remained relatively unchanged.  However, the university campus, home to MSU Billings four-year and graduate degrees, was down nearly 10 percent.


A closer look at the students enrolled this autumn shows a significant decrease in first-time freshmen. The 674 students that comprise this year’s first-time freshman cohort is down nearly 12 percent when compared to the previous year.


“We as a system have understood for several years that we are operating in an environment where high school numbers are declining,” commented Chancellor Mark Nook.  “We understand this decrease isn’t going to remedy itself in the short-term, which makes it imperative that we focus on retaining every student possible and ensuring they meet their educational and professional goals.”


MSU Billings has shown the value in its degree offerings—during the past four-years an average of 1,000 students earned a diploma. During that span, alumni data shows that graduates from MSUB stay in Montana and contribute to the state’s economy and the betterment of its communities.  According to surveyed alumni, roughly 80 percent of four-year degree seekers and over 85 percent of two-year degree seekers stay in Montana.  


Contributing to the record graduating classes is the value transfer students see in MSU Billings programs and the business community. The university started fall classes with 434 new transfer students, up nearly 3 percent when compared to last year. 


“Transfer students have certainly shown an affinity for MSU Billings,” commented Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Joe Oravecz. “Opportunities for internships and real-world experience, while attaining a degree, are extremely attractive attributes that you simply can’t find at many other institutions.”
With the success of graduates and stability in transfer students, the campus as a whole is looking at how it can improve retention.  The fall-to-fall retention of first-time freshmen – those returning for a second year – is one area where the university can make some reasonable gains.


In fall 2014 Chancellor Nook formed a 14 member Student Success Committee, chaired by Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Matt Redinger.  The committee was asked to review and assess a broad range of student-centered programs nationally demonstrated to be best practices for assuring that students are able to meet their goals. 


“It was readily apparent that we have a retention and persistence issue with our students,” said Redinger. “What was born out of this nearly year-long review was an outline to help our students persist from year-to-year and ultimately attain a degree.”


The committee recommended the following steps during a university-wide meeting:

  • Address high-risk, high-DFWI courses (courses where a high percentage of students earn grades of D,F, W, or I) through active faculty and staff participation in the John Gardner Institute’s Gateways to Completion program.
  • Enhance student success in developmental education by ramping up partnered courses while growing proven successful linked/co-requisite course pilots to create student learning communities.
  • Develop and implement a faculty-initiated, MSUB-tailored Early Alert System to improve communication between students, faculty and advisors.  This effort will create small, just-in-time adjustments to student classroom performance.
  • Strategically increase our efforts at maximizing the effectiveness of faculty and staff advisors through intensive professional development and training in state-of-the-art student curricular and career advising.

As the University addresses student retention and persistence, the overall financial health of the university is on much more stable footing following last year’s $4.4 million reduction.


“It is always difficult when you have to make reductions to cover shortfalls in revenue,” said Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Terrie Iverson. “We learned a lot from the process and the campus did a nice job coming together to make decisions for the well-being of our students. Given last year’s reduction we won’t have to cut any further to this year’s budget, even with an enrollment decline.”


In spite of the decline, MSU Billings still holds strong as the third largest institution in Montana, offering more online credit hours than any other university in the state.


Other enrollment information shows:

  • Early High School and Dual Credit students have increased by 10.8 percent when compared to fall 2014.  This population has skyrocketed since 2011, growing almost 200 percent.
  • Students continue to receive more aid from the MSU Billings Foundation as scholarships have grown from $1.4 million to nearly $1.6 million year to date.
  • Yellowstone County comprised 53.6 percent of the total student population with another 33.7 percent coming from other Montana counties.
  • The average age of undergraduate students at the four-year university campus is 24.2 and at the City College is 24.6.
  • Students studying on a part-time basis has increased when compared to their full-time counterparts. There are 1,555 part-time students this fall and 2,874 full-time students.
  • The majority of students continue to be women, 63.3 percent.
  • American Indian students make up 6.2 percent of the student body at MSU Billings while Hispanic students comprise about 4.5 percent.

Begun in 1927 as a teachers college, MSU Billings has become a comprehensive regional urban university with about 100 academic programs in areas of Arts and Sciences, Allied Health Professions, Business, Education and Technology. In addition, students can choose from more than 200 classes offered in 21 online programs.


To find out more about MSU Billings academic offerings, go to or call 657-2888