Amid a pandemic that has dramatically altered the world of higher education and introduced new complexity into families’ decisions about attending college, Montana State University reported today that its fall enrollment remained strong and set new records for graduation rates and student retention.

The traditional fall headcount, taken after the 15th day of classes, showed that 16,249 students are attending classes at MSU. That includes students who are taking courses in person, remotely or in a blended fashion — the three course modes offered at the university this fall. MSU’s fall enrollment may continue to increase as high school students, who started three weeks later than MSU, register for dual enrollment courses.

The enrollment is the fifth highest in MSU’s 127-year history, with the record set in 2018 at 16,902. The fall count is “stunningly strong,” all things considered, said MSU President Waded Cruzado. She noted that the pandemic has prompted many students to change their educational plans or to defer the start of their college careers.

“I am humbled that so many students have chosen to pursue their dreams at Montana State, despite the uncertainty of the pandemic. They ought to be commended for the clarity of their goals and their sense of persistence,” Cruzado said. “MSU’s success is truly a credit to MSU’s faculty and staff who have worked extraordinarily hard to make MSU a safe and welcoming campus this fall and continue to do so as we make our way through the fall. In addition, this year more than ever, parents and families have been part of the MSU team. When we say, ‘We are in this together,’ we really mean it.”

MSU’s retention rate – the percentage of first-year students returning for their second year – hit its highest mark in more than 30 years of modern record keeping at 78.2% percent. First-year to second year retention is a key indicator as it is highly predictive of how many students will continue to graduation.