UM Enrollment Figures Reveal Commitment to Meeting Student Needs During Pandemic

Students chat on the first day of fall semester classes at the University of Montana.

MISSOULA – Amidst unprecedented challenges caused by COVID-19, preliminary enrollment data for the University of Montana for the fall 2020 semester show an improvement in undergraduate student retention and persistence, as well as record graduate student enrollment.

“Faced with the tremendous challenges presented by COVID-19, the entire UM family worked diligently over the spring and summer to ensure students had an array of flexible options to pursue their education this fall,” said UM President Seth Bodnar. “The fact that so many students chose to keep on learning at UM this fall despite the uncertainty and disruption of a global pandemic is a testament to the resolve and determination of our faculty and staff during one of the most difficult periods ever for higher education.”

Continuing a positive trend of the past two years, UM saw an increase in its first-year student retention rate for the second year in a row, improving from 71.5% last fall to 75.1% this fall, a nearly 7% increase since fall 2018.

The first-year retention rate is an important indicator for the University, as students who persist into their second year are much more likely to successfully complete their studies and graduate. In addition, UM set a graduate student enrollment record in the fall 2020 semester, driven by a 4.9% increase in first-time graduate students.

In total, UM reported 10,015 students enrolled for the fall 2020 semester.

“To increase rates of student retention and persistence in the midst of a global pandemic is an incredible achievement,” Bodnar said. “Whether it is our redesigned orientation, bolstered academic advising or investments in classrooms and student learning centers, UM is placing students at the center of all we do, and that is reflected in these results.”

Bodnar emphasized that the driving force of UM’s new, multifaceted retention strategy is a deep commitment to prioritizing student needs above all else. Over the past year, UM has launched a new student orientation program – the Big Sky Experience – along with enhanced individual academic advising, wellness support, peer mentoring, community partnerships for experiential learning and a new, comprehensive career readiness program called ElevateU.

UM also has increased the number of offerings available to students over the summer. This summer, UM saw an enrollment increase for the third year in a row, and summer enrollment this year was 26.7% higher than it was three years ago. This means students are able to complete their degrees faster, and over 450 students earned their degrees this summer and did not need to return to campus for the fall.

“From the moment a student chooses UM to the day they earn their diploma and start in that first job, we provide them with the support and resources they need to succeed – especially during these trying times,” Bodnar added.

Compared to fall 2019, UM saw a smaller freshmen class, as yield rates from an increased applicant pool declined amidst the pandemic.

“Last winter, applicants to UM were on the rise, and out-of-state applicants were the highest volume we have seen in years,” Bodnar said. “Over the course of the spring and summer, we saw a large number of students and families make some different decisions about college in light of COVID-19, with some staying closer to home and others taking some time off.  That impact is reflected in the size of this year’s freshmen class.

“We are optimistic that when we are on the other side of COVID-19, our continued efforts to revitalize UM’s student recruitment infrastructure will drive continued growth in applications and higher yield rates of enrolled students.”

After reviewing UM’s preliminary fall semester report, Vice President for Operations and Finance Paul Lasiter said fiscal 2021 revenues appear to be in line with budget forecasts.

“COVID-19 created great uncertainty for students and their families regarding their personal choices for higher education this fall,” Lasiter said. “UM was not exempt from the impacts of this uncertainty. Fortunately, our projections of student enrollment and revenue – combined with prudent budgetary measures – ensured that UM has the financial resources to continue strengthening student services, while also making campuswide improvements that prospective students are seeking.”

In addition to renovating Urey Lecture Hall, improving residence halls and upgrading the Oval for the first time in generations, UM recently was approved to begin the design of a new dining hall on campus and is working on campuswide plans to upgrade student-facing infrastructure.

UM published preliminary enrollment data prior to this week’s Montana Board of Regents meeting. Due to many student hardships created by COVID-19, UM is exercising a Board of Regents procedure that allows Montana universities additional time to work with students to finalize their registration status. The final UM census report will be published during the last week of September.

More information about UM’s 2020 fall census will be published at when finalized.


Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659,