MSU students on Centennial Mall

BOZEMAN, Mont. - Montana State University is reporting its fifth-highest enrollment ever this semester despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're thrilled that so many students have chosen MSU to be their college," says the university's News Service Director, Michael Becker.

There are now 16,249 students attending classes at MSU, a number that Becker calls "welcome." This fall semester, students have a choice of how they want to learn, between in-person, online, or hybrid classes.

While students at the state's largest university are in the middle of one of the strangest semesters of their lives, they're still on campus learning. The same can't be said for every college student, according to early enrollment predictions. While many universities haven't reported enrollment numbers yet, over the summer the Fitch Rating Group estimated there could be up to a 20% drop in enrollment for colleges around the nation due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and its effects. At Montana State, it's just a 3% drop from last fall to this one.

While the news speaks well of the university, it might speak even more highly of its students.

"To persist through these adaptations and these different courses and the way that they're being offered," says Becker, "it really shows a lot of grit and determination on their part. And we're so proud of them for their sticktoitiveness."

This year, the number of freshman students returning for their sophomore year hit its highest mark in more than 30 years, with a 78.2% retention rate. Retention rates for first-year to second-year students are a major indicator of how many students will continue their education to graduation.

The enrollment number may end up going even higher in the weeks to come, with high school students being added in as part of dual-enrollment.

Graduation rates at the university have also hit a record high for both four- and six-year graduates. Four-year graduation rate is up 5% from 2019's 29.7% and the six-year rate was up slightly as well to 56.4%.

"As for the future," says Becker, "I think it's really hard to predict at this point. We hope that they are rewarded with their choice and stay with us 'til graduation."

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