The fall enrollment numbers announced by Mount Marty University (MMU) last week were, unsurprisingly, bright.

The school’s three campuses — besides Yankton, it also offers classes in Watertown and Sioux Falls — showed a total enrollment of 1,235 students. If you take out the dual-enrollment students, the enrollment stood at 854, the largest number for the school in nine years.

Also, MMU saw its biggest freshman class enrollment ever this fall, and the school clocked in with its largest undergraduate on-campus enrollment since 2007.

As stated above, none of this is a surprise, given the changes and expansions the college-turned-university has embraced the past few years. The school’s “Momentum” motto seems a perfect description to capture the vibe of this moment.

It’s easy to point to the new football program and the additions of a new fieldhouse and new residence hall at the Yankton campus as drivers for the enrollment climb, and they have played a conspicuous role in the increase.

But one must also consider the context in which these gains have been made.

MMU has grown at a time when a lot of other institutions of higher education are cutting back due to soft enrollment numbers and financial constraints.

According to the website EducationData.org, U.S. colleges and universities saw an average annual undergraduate enrollment decline of 1.67% each year between 2010-2018.

Also, NPR recently reported that overall undergraduate enrollment in spring 2021 showed a drop of nearly 5% from 2020. “That’s really dramatic,” said Doug Shapiro of the National Student Clearinghouse. “Despite all kinds of hopes and expectations that things would get better (from fall 2020), they’ve only gotten worse in the spring. It’s really the end of a truly frightening year for higher education. There will be no easy fixes or quick bounce backs.”

Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has played a big role in the recent problems, but as noted above, the overall decline has been an ongoing issue across the nation. Skyrocketing costs and online educational options are among the things that have made big impacts in this area.

Mount Marty has not been immune from this, with its non-dual credit enrollment falling to 750 in 2016.

Since then, MMU has shifted to a far more aggressive mode. It has expanded its academic offerings and outreach, particularly in its nursing and anesthesia programs. The additions of a football program and new buildings, as well as changing the school from a college to a university, were more than high-profile splashes. They represented dynamic steps taken in what has unquestionably been (and continues to be) an overall static, difficult environment for higher education, and that was true even before the pandemic.

Thus, Mount Marty’s enrollment numbers represent a very promising trend for this school in these times. It says a lot about the vision and the commitment of school officials.

Momentum, indeed.

kmh

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