Minnesota college's undergrad enrollment keeps dropping, but there's a silver lining

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- Undergraduate enrollment at Minnesota State University Moorhead has reached a low point not seen since at least 2000, while graduate enrollment has surged to its highest level in years, according to figures the university relea...

MOORHEAD, Minn. - Undergraduate enrollment at Minnesota State University Moorhead has reached a low point not seen since at least 2000, while graduate enrollment has surged to its highest level in years, according to figures the university released Wednesday, Oct. 10.

The decline in undergraduate enrollment is part of a national trend that's been especially pronounced in the Midwest, MSUM President Anne Blackhurst said. But the rise in graduate enrollment is the result of a deliberate university initiative that's paying off, she said.

Wednesday's numbers show that, "if we seek new markets or new audiences, offer new degree levels, such as our graduate programming, and offer different delivery methods, such as our online programming, and make sure we do those things in areas where there is student demand and where we know the employers in Fargo-Moorhead have high demand for graduates, then we will see our investment pay off and we will see enrollment grow," she said.

The official headcount for this fall shows 4,828 undergraduates, a 6 percent decrease from last fall, and 1,032 graduates, an 18 percent increase. It's the first time since at least 2000 that MSUM had fewer than 5,000 undergraduates or more than 1,000 graduates.

The total headcount, including both groups of students, was a 3 percent decrease from last fall. North Dakota State University in Fargo reported in September that its fall headcount had decreased 4 percent to 13,796.

Blackhurst said she expects declining enrollment to result in less state funding, though there isn't a per-pupil kind of formula. Fewer students also means less tuition, she said, though the university hopes to make up for the loss of undergraduate tuition with more graduate tuition, which is typically higher.

From 2000 to 2011, MSUM's fall headcount was always more than 7,000, peaking at 7,738 in 2002, according to university data. Starting in 2012, enrollment began to decline steadily every year.

For most of those years, graduates made up 5 to 7 percent of the total headcount. In 2014, it increased to 9 percent, and this fall it's 18 percent of the total headcount.

Blackhurst said MSUM looked for training needs the business community had and offered programs to meet those needs. Educational leadership, health care administration and masters of nursing are some of the programs with the highest demand, she said.

"We're working every day to figure out how we can expand in areas where there's clearly untapped demand," she said.

As for the decline in undergraduate enrollment, she said she believes it will stabilize in 2020 based on current K-12 enrollment, and increase slightly.

That doesn't mean a rebound to levels the university enjoyed in 2010 and earlier, she said. MSUM is lucky to be in the Fargo-Moorhead area where schools are seeing a lot of enrollment growth, she said, but few other communities in Minnesota outside of the Twin Cities are in the same position.

"We're really adjusting to something that's probably going to be the new normal, including the intense competition for those high school graduates that exist," she said.