We're still several weeks away from seeing the University of Montana's fall enrollment numbers.
But UM President Seth Bodnar is anticipating that more Missoula area grads will be staying "close to home" this fall for safe learning as the pandemic continues.
When UM had to close physical operations last spring during the pandemic, Bodnar was immediately encouraging graduates, and older students, to not delay learning because of the uncertainties impacting higher education. His argument was that Montana students could stay close to home, but maintain their momentum toward a degree.
Now, with students returning to campus, and classes about to open, we asked him whether there might be a strong mix of local students at UM this fall and what the enrollment picture looks like going into the fall.
"Well you know, in someways it's hard to know right now," Bodnar said. "I think a lot of families and a lot of students are still in decision mode at this point. I will tell you that we have, again, our core has been we're here, to be able to continue to pursue your dreams even during a pandemic.
"And so our key has been, we're going to provide flexible options that meet your needs as students. And I would tell you, I think we have seen some Missoula students who've said 'I want to stay a little closer to home.'"
Bodnar notes there are bright spots with enrollment, even with the pandemic, with student retention rates the highest in a decade.
Yet, there are still challenges ahead. The postponement of fall sports alone will shift millions of dollars on the state's campuses, a move that already has raised concerns at the Montana University System.
Bodnar says that could mean cuts, but with the same adaptability it's taken already this year.
"We're going to have make some budget adjustments," Bodnar said. "But I'll tell you what will be central to everything we do is, the success of our students. And it's not just reductions. It's re-allocations. There are going to be certain areas where we're going to add resources. There's going to be certain areas where we reduce resources to best serve our students."