BEMIDJI -- Enrollment at Bemidji State for the 2019 fall semester is down from the year before, officials reported this week.
The university compiles its yearly fall enrollment numbers based on the 30th day of classes after the semester begins. For the 2019 fall semester, there were a total of 4,898 students enrolled in the university, BSU announced Tuesday. That number consists of 4,504 undergraduate students and 394 graduate students.
The total counts for both categories were down from the same time last year. Undergraduate enrollment declined roughly 4.7 percent from the 4,727 students in the fall of 2018, and graduate student enrollment declined roughly 3.7 percent from the 409 recorded in the fall of 2018. The total headcount declined by 238 students.
In spite of the decline in student enrollment, BSU is attempting to bolster its numbers. The school has hired an out-of-state recruitment specialist for the admissions office as well as an outreach specialist for the American Indian Resource Center within the past year.
“From the standpoint of recruitment, the expansion of staff in this area allows us to tell more students about BSU by reaching more students across the nation and the world,” Michelle Frenzel, executive director of enrollment management, said in an email.
Frenzel said part of the reason for the decline in enrollment is that there is a high demand for workers. Because of that, students are able to enter directly into the job market.
Karen Snorek, vice president for finance and administration at BSU, said the university had budgeted for a decline in enrollment between fiscal years 2019-20. Snorek said one of the ways they will compensate for the additional decline is with positions the university budgeted for but have not yet filled.
The university released a statement that said the decline “reflects a system-wide trend amongst the seven Minnesota State universities.” Overall, the universities in the system have seen a decline of almost 3 percent.
Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra said in a statement that the “dip in enrollment is consistent with economic and demographic trends that are impacting public higher education throughout the region and across the country.”
The last few years have not represented a steadily declining trend, but this fall's enrollment numbers for BSU are the lowest they’ve been over the last five years when compared with the other fall semesters. In fact, it’s the first time since before 2015 that the total enrollment has dipped below the 5,000 mark in the fall semester. In 2018, the total enrollment was 5,136. In 2015, total enrollment was 5,013.
Except for last year, which only had 15 more graduate students than this year, enrollment for graduate students has been on an upward trend. In 2015, that number was 274, but in 2019, it was 394.
Although the undergraduate numbers have jumped around a little from year to year rather than moving in a solid direction, the number of undergraduate students is the lowest number since before 2015. In 2015, undergraduate enrollment was just slightly higher than last year.
In spite of the overall decline, the university has seen stronger-than-usual retention rates. The release from the university said the retention rate "measures the percentage of students entering classes during a fall term who return to the institution the following fall."
The school reported a retention rate of 72.3 percent for the fall semester. That number was down slightly from the 72.4 percent reported the year before. However, before the last two years, the last highest retention rate was in 2009 when the university reported 71.7 percent.
Frenzel said they attribute the increase in retention to having a number of services and initiatives that aim to support students.
Enrollment information for Northwest Technical College has not been released yet. However, the enrollment for fall 2018 was 1,021, which was up from the 928 reported in 2017.