Admission and Recruitment at the University of Montana Need Improving


Prior to 1990, for a century, Montanans and the University System thought that the university was a right that should be available to all Montanans. Now, somehow, exactly at a time when the university needs students in the classroom, it denies that access to half of the young people in the state -- and even thinks it's better to invite in Californians, in place of those displaced Montanans. Isn’t it time to revert to that system that honored the right of every Montana youth?


In more detail:




The monetary situation of the university has nothing to do with languages ​​or other offerings in liberal arts, but rather with recruitment and admission policies. One comparison is with Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman. A good summary of what MSU is doing is here in an article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

As this article explains, the administration of that university recognized in about 2011 that it had a problem with enrollment and put a strong program in place to address it:

“So, what's MSU's secret?
Part of the answer seems to be money. Part is hard work. And part is understanding the feelings of teenagers and parents.”

They recognized the need to recruit non-resident students. They even did things like offer partial exemptions to the cost of tuition to non-resident students! The result is that since 2011, they have experienced an increase in enrollment:

The total enrollment in MSU increased significantly since 2011, while that of UM declined:image002


The resident enrollment increased a little in MSU, but declined in UM:image004


But the big difference was that MSU had a considerable increase in non-resident enrollment:image006


These graphics are from here:

Of 16,703 students at MSU in the fall of 2017, 53% were from Montana, 43% from other states in the United States, and 4% from foreign countries.

This is in striking contrast to the 87% of MSU students who were from Montana in 1964.

The percentage of foreign students has been small and fairly stable at 4% since 2011:

In other words, non-resident students are primarily from other states in the United States, and not from other foreign countries. As indicated in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle article, non-resident students come from all states of the United States, but primarily from Washington, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Idaho, and Oregon:

origen de no resendentes

More detail about this graphic can be found in this table:



Looking at the detail of the sources of the enrollment increases at MSU from 2009-2017, we see this:

enrollment 1

enrollment 2

enrollment 3




These data are from here:


More insight about the MSU out-of-state students is provided in tables like this one that details their out-of-state enrollment for fall 2017:

out-of-state fall 2017


Of the 1,033 California students, for example, 646 of them pay out-of-state tuition, and 126 are undergraduates with reduced Western University Exchange (WUE) tuition -- but 222 pay Montana resident tuition. Regarding  the WUE, California is one of the states of this coalition, but just because a student is from California, it does not mean that he/she automatically gets the reduced WUE tuition. That is a highly competitive program, and only the select 126 received the reduction. But – how are 222 California students paying Montana resident tuition?


It turns out that is one of the factors attracting out-of-state students. In a description of the Montana University System (MUS) residency requirements, the key phrases are these: “With certain exceptions, in order to be eligible for in-state status, a person must meet the required durational residency test identified in the residency policy. . . . For all other students/applicants, the required time period is 12 months. . . . However, if a person is registered for more than one-half of a full-time credit load at any post-secondary school during the required durational time period, a rebuttable presumption is created that the person is in the state primarily for educational purposes and that period of time will not be considered as part of the required waiting period and will serve to interrupt any current waiting period unless the presumption is overcome.”


The straightforward idea is that if you’ve lived in Montana for at least a year – other than being here just to attend the university – you’ve gained resident status and from then on qualify for resident tuition.


But the statement about “more than one-half of a full-time credit load” means that an out-of-state student can come to Montana, take one-half of a full-time credit load, so 6 credits per semester for a year are allowable, maybe work part time – including at the university -- and from then on take a full load. In these registrar’s reports, MSU retains the status as “Californian” of the student on entry to the university, even though the student has become a Montana resident – which probably reflects more accurately the reality of the strategy: most of these students will go back to their home states or to other states on graduation. (Some of the students in this category, perhaps a fifth of them, are “covered veterans”:

but that leaves about four-fifths are getting the status by the means just described.)


Out-of-state students, like from California, see the cost of Montana resident tuition of $5,490 per year a great bargain compared to resident California tuition of $12,630 per year. More generally, for all 7,134 out-of-state students at MSU for fall 2017,  1,444, or 20%, paid resident tuition rates. MSU says it does not actively promote this strategy, but somehow it’s well-known and this astonishing number of out-of-state students take advantage of it.


As described in the newspaper article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, there are additionally $12.3 million dollars per year in tuition waivers that MSU grants to attract out-of-state students, an average of about $1,700 per out-of-state student. MSU does this because it considers it just a slight discount on the $22,000 per year non-resident tuition.




The end result is that while MSU had this strong program of recruitment and admission in place, the University of Montana (UM) did nothing, and the result is the budget woes that UM finds itself in, versus the much stronger situation of its sister university MSU.

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Another factor that impacts the situation has to do with the requirements for admission to UM, which are as follows:
“Primary Requirements

• An ACT composite score of 22

• or a SAT combined score of 1120 (1540 for tests prior to March 2016)

• or a 2.50 cumulative grade-point average

• or a class rank in the upper half of your high school graduating class”

If the university has severe monetary problems and suffers severely from lack of enrollment, it seems counterproductive to reject students. Up until very recently, Montana's university system thought it had an obligation to admit any student who graduated from a Montana high school. As recently as 1989, the admissions requirement read: “Graduates of any Montana high school which is fully accredited by the State Board of Education are admitted to regular standing. Montana residents who are graduates of non-Montana high schools which are fully accredited by a regular accrediting agency are admitted to regular standing.”


What happened with this? What the university needs is money, and for that, it needs students who pay. If a student can pay, admit him! It can easily be that a student who does not do much in high school finds himself in college and does well. It is a matter of inspiration. It's a very different environment from high school, which suits some students better.

The administration can argue "but the vast majority of those who apply" are accepted. But the key phrase is "of those who apply." If a student and his parents already realize that it is impossible that it is going to happen because he has 2.0 as an average grade instead of 2.5, it is not worth applying. Who knows how many students were eliminated in this way? It can easily be thousands.

The requirement to be in the upper half of your class in high school means that the policy denies the university education system to half of Montana's youth. It is a very exclusionary policy and surely out of place in this environment, when the system surely does not have problems with too many students.

As it worked traditionally it was quite simple and basic. The first classes at the university were "sink or swim". If a student succeeds, great!; if not, at least he tried. It was, all in all, a fair and just method.


The result of these policies is that thousands of potential university students are not at the University of Montana, and the budget shows it. It is an outcome of the policies of recruitment and admissions to the university, and not of offerings such as languages or other liberal arts.


Is the present exclusionary system really how Montana higher education ought to operate? Isn’t it time to reopen the university system to any graduate of a Montana High School, as used to be the case? Does the Montana University System really want to tell half of Montana youths and their parents “sorry, we don’t care about you . . . we’d rather support Californians”?


Or, as with UM’s approach, is it really preferable to dismantle and shut down offerings rather than to change admission policy and allow Montana young people to receive them and fill the classrooms?


Why not change the admission policy to admit all graduates of a Montana high school to the university? Right now. Starting this summer. Why not open the university to the half of Montana’s youth that are being denied it by the current policy? – and let them fill those classrooms?


Isn’t it time to change these policies?