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UM enrollment drops for spring semester

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MISSOULA, Mont. - Enrollment at the University of Montana has dropped again. The total number of students dropped by 325 from spring 2016 to spring 2017.

UM's Davidson Honors College welcomed the media to listen to UM President Sheila Stearns' message on how the university plans to increase enrollment. Stearns says the 11,615 students enrolled are a good starting point to grow the student body.

"I've been thinking, knowing what our enrollment trends have been and knowing that there is always a drop from fall to spring, that we may drop to near 11,000 students," Stearns said. "That would be the best spot to plan."

With enrollment down, budget cuts could be on the way. In January Stearns outlined plans for change. She said when budget cuts initially began the university employed around 3,000 faculty, staff and administration. She said cuts reduced that number to around 2,900.

"It may need to be 2,800; it may need to be 2,700," Stearns said. "That is what I need for our budget committee and assessment committee to really analyze for me."

School officials say they have to cut back on their budgeted expenditures.

Those expenditures amount to 81 percent for personnel, 9 percent for operating costs, 8 percent for scholarships and fellowships and 1 percent for capital equipment and debt service. The 81 percent consists of faculty and staff salaries, benefits and health insurance. Administrators say that is where the costs need to be cut -- in the personnel category.

UM student Acacia Probert says tuition is one thing she hopes the university doesn't increase.

"If the university took the time to address tuition at a student level and really look at the economic situation we are put in and how strapped we are for cash -- it is becoming ridiculous," Probert said.

Tuition has hardly increased since 2010, and some students blame that for the financial problems.

"Another reason we ran out of money is because our students weren't paying enough tuition," Taylor McDermott said. "If students had been for years and we didn't have anything to freeze on, then we wouldn't have run out of as much money."

UM has experienced falling numbers since 2010. In 2016 the university hired a vice president with enrollment expertise. Stearns says she expects enrollment to even out in the next two years thanks to new recruitment ideas.

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