Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
With classes set to start Tuesday, Sept. 2, and the residence halls at Montana State University-Northern opening Saturday, the chancellor of the university is cautiously optimistic about enrollment at the institution. “I’m feeling OK about where we are I’m not happy about being down, but it is what we budgeted for,” Rolf Groseth, interim chancellor at Northern said Thursday. Groseth was appointed interim chancellor after Alex Capdeville, who took the job at Northern in 2000, announced in December 2007 he was retiring at the end of the month. Northern has seen a slide in enrollment after peaking shortly after Capdeville took over. It showed the largest drop in a system-wide Montana University System decline last fall where only Montana State University-Billings saw an increase 43 students more from the 2006 enrollment. After peaking at 1,589 students in the fall of 2001, Northern has seen declines every year since. From the fall of 2006 to 2007, the enrollment dropped 173 students to a total of 1,215. Steve Jamruszka, chief student affairs officer at Northern, said it is too early to make any firm predictions of enrollment at the university but he believes the final count will be close to last fall’s about 25 to 30 less, he estimated. Because the semester is starting a week later in the calendar year for 2008-2009 and because students have two weeks to drop and add, much could change before the final count is out, he said. As of Wednesday, Northern’s head count stood at 1,135. Groseth said he is slightly more pessimistic. He expects the final count to be 30 to 40 students lower, but that is within the drop the university budgeted for, he said. Northern set its budget to include a 5 percent decrease, or about 50 students. Groseth said planning for a slight decrease has allowed Northern to start the year with a balanced budget, and should let the university get through the year without having to make adjustments. “It’s the first time in several years we’ve been able to do that,” he said, adding that the previous budget difficulties have stemmed from a decline in the number of students, which drives much of the state university funding system. “It requires you to be in a more proactive mode,” Groseth said. When he appointed Groseth, a long-time staff member at Montana State University in Bozeman, interim chancellor last December, MSU President Geoff Gamble said he wanted Groseth to look at how Northern should focus on its role in higher education. That would help guide the university in its search for a permanent chancellor, he said. Groseth said he is hopeful that a search for a permanent replacement could begin sometime this fall. He said he is not looking for any major change in the direction in the goals of the institution. “I think the major changes will be looking at new markets,” Groseth said. He said the university will be looking at some programs with low enrollment, but said he is not looking at any particular programs now. Deciding whether to keep programs with low enrollment is a complicated process, he added. “It’s a balancing act ,” Groseth said. “To be a university campus, there are certain programs you need to be offering.” He said the university is working to increase its ties with colleges, including tribal and community colleges in Montana and other colleges in the United States and Canada. The university is working with the college in Medicine Hat, Alberta, to try to strengthen recruiting students from its two-year programs to finish a bachelor’s degree at Northern, and working with colleges in other states including Idaho, Washington and Oregon, he said. The university has also been in touch with a two-year college in West Memphis, Ark., about creating ties between its twoyear diesel program and Northern’s four-year program, he added. “Everybody across the country is dying for diesel techs,” Groseth said. Northern also needs to work on recruiting more high school graduates from the Hi-Line to continue onto college, whether in Havre or at other institutions including tribal and community colleges, Groseth said. The region has a comparatively low rate of students going from high school to higher education, he said. “We need to work harder to get them to go somewhere,” Groseth said. “It’s important to the state that we have a bettereducated population.” The university is also working in other areas to improve the budget and to improve recruitment and retention of students. Groseth said some teaching and classified positions in the university are being adjusted, with some positions not being filled after the previous worker retired and the university considering changing one teaching position from a tenure-track position to non-tenured. “That’s something that might happen in the future,” Groseth said, adding, “It is difficult. It’s harder to hire a nontenured position.” The university has done some changes to strengthen student life at the campus, including moving Bill Lanier back into his former position as director of resident life and moving his office and the office of Denise Brewer, director of student activities and student recreation and intramurals, back into the Student Union Building. Groseth said the number of students staying in the residence halls and living on campus has been increasing, and he wants to continue that trend. Improving residence life is an important goal, and the move of Lanier and Brewer could help jump-start that, he said. “(Improving student life) wa s a hi gh p r i o r i t y o f Chancellor Capdeville, and I think a correct one,” Groseth said. He said he hopes other changes, including starting a new advising center in the Vande Bogart Library on the campus, could help keep students at Northern. “We need to try to get these students who come in in the fall to be back next fall,” he said.