While the size of Carroll College's total student body decreased again this semester, enrollment among new first-year students has reached its highest level in three years.
Total enrollment at Carroll was 1,373 in 2016, 1,354 in 2017, 1,353 in 2018, and 1,290 this semester. Chato Hazelbaker, vice president of enrollment, said the class of 2019 was the largest group of graduates in recent memory, which contributed to the enrollment drop this year.
As part of last year's program prioritization process, Hazelbaker said, Carroll set an enrollment goal of 295 new first-year students this semester, 325 in fall 2020 and 350 in fall 2021.
This semester's new first-year enrollment of 311 is the college's highest since fall 2016, when 340 new students enrolled. Overall, new first-year enrollment increased 22.4% over last fall, which equates to approximately 57 more students.
Hazelbaker said dual-enrollment and veteran enrollment remained flat this semester. Meanwhile, there was a slight enrollment bump among non-traditional-aged students in the college's new master's of accounting program.
Nursing is the most popular program this year, Hazelbaker said, and the pre-med program received the second-highest enrollment bump. Anthrozoology typically makes the top five for enrollment, he said.
Hazelbaker also said the pre-law program experienced a 50% jump in enrollment, which comes out to about nine students, likely because of the school's new 3+3 partnership with the University of Montana. In fact, Carroll president John Cech said several students told him this is why they enrolled.
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The pre-med program received the second-highest enrollment bump.
Among the new first-year students, in-state enrollment grew by 47% and out-of state enrollment is up by about 10% this year.
"We are celebrating our 110th anniversary this year," Cech said. "The school was originally created to serve Montanans. This increase is definitely a service to our mission and our history."
Cech said Carroll imports talent to Montana, with many of its graduates choosing to stay and continue working in the state. He said this is critically important as economists expect more than 20% of the state's workforce to retire over the next 10 years.
Attracting new students and serving non-traditional students has become a major part of Carroll's plan. Cech referred to 25- to 55-year-olds as a key demographic and said serving that population could be a major benefit to them and the overall community. Carroll is primarily doing this through programs like its master's of accounting and the upcoming master's of social work and doctorate of nurse practice degree programs. Carroll is also developing an accelerated nursing program that will let non-nursing degree holders complete a 15-month program to earn a second bachelor's degree in nursing. These programs are designed with adult learners in mind, according to Cech.
Expansion of summer school and shaving more time off degrees are other ways Carroll is aiming to further grow enrollment, according to Hazelbaker. The college is aiming to launch a pilot program next summer, which could help students cut up to a year off the total time spent earning a degree. Cech said this is one way Carroll is aiming to take advantage of the "attractive and beautiful place" that is the Helena community.
Carroll is also making a financial commitment to further grow its student population. The administration decided to raise all merit scholarship commitments by $3,000 last year. This raised the top merit scholarship to $22,000 per year. These scholarships are given to students based on their pre-enrollment academic merit and continue as long as the students are in good academic standing, according to Hazelbaker.