Is UM Enrollment the Problem, or a Symptom?

by lizard

Royce Engstrom, president of the University of Montana, seems to be employing the following strategy: if you don’t talk about it, maybe it will just go away.

I’m talking of course about the “enrollment problem” Royce Engstrom is desperately trying to message for the regents:

UM saw its enrollment peak in 2011 at 15,669 students, and has steadily decreased by an estimated 1,100 students over the past two years, carrying broad implications for the school’s budget.

At the same time, Montana State University expects its enrollment numbers to top 15,000 for the first time in school history, marking a 21 percent increase since 2010.

The decline anticipated this year at UM pertains only to the Missoula campus, Engstrom noted. The other three UM-affiliated schools remain on track with past enrollment figures.

Engstrom named a variety of factors for the recent decline, including the economy, competition from other schools – both in state and out – and changing demographics in Montana.

“The enrollment decline we’re experiencing at UM is in the resident undergraduate population,” he said. “The enrollment picture is the thing that keeps me awake at night. We have five key actions we’re putting into motion to address enrollment, and resident undergraduates are the target.”

No doubt there are multiple factors in declining enrollment, but the one factor you won’t find mentioned in this article (which is surprising) is the rape scandal that UM couldn’t PR itself out of two years ago, triggering a trifecta of investigations.

From the beginning of his tenure, there have been critics. Engstrom is receiving a very generous salary with benefits because, we were told two years ago, that’s what is required to attract quality candidates:

The compensation package approved by the regents mirrored that of Montana State University President Waded Cruzado, who was hired a year ago. Engstrom’s annual salary will be $280,000.

In addition, he will receive a $500,000 deferred compensation package, which has never been offered before at UM.

The Montana University System was forced to get creative in terms of compensation for university presidents to attract high-quality candidates, said Kevin McRae, associate commissioner for communications and human resources.

Will UM finally pause its endless construction if it’s clear the university’s leadership can’t seduce more students to pay the always-increasing tuition and fees for their “higher” education?

And how long will Engstrom be allowed to lead the University? Obviously, the problems that blew up in Engstrom’s face were simmering long before he was hired. But that’s the (nicely compensated) job Engstrom was hired to do. Is it already time for a change?


  1. NamelessRange

    The omission of the rape scandal isn’t that surprising. Does any data exist that shows that it had any effect at all on enrollment? It wasn’t a big enough event (in that it didn’t effect enough people directly) to even come close to influencing demographic enrollment models in the way that the economy did. Also, people are beginning to realize that MSU is an excellent school(even though Boze-Angeles sucks) and that as far as training individuals in careers that will make money, it is far superior to UM.

    Engstrom is a tool and I don’t buy the enormous salary he is receiving. Is anyone worth that much?(A serious question) If UM were to hire two hungry and talented individuals trying to make a name for themselves at 120,000 each, is anyone going to defend the idea that Royce would still have more utility? There are so many intelligent and resourceful individuals out there who would do Engstrom’s job better, and for less.

    • JC

      Previously, the big dollars for the U.M. presidency bought Dennison’s connections to Plum Creek and Dennis Washington — both huge donors to the school.

      With Engstrom, we’re buying a goatee, as far as I can tell…

      But to answer your question about data, if the U.M. had any data showing the effects of the rape scandal, they sure as hell would never reveal it to the press. What data there is, is anecdotal, and I know of many families that are choosing to send their kids to another school instead of the U.M. exactly because of not just the rape scandal, but the (perceived or real) emphasis of athletics over academics.

  2. Chuck

    Good read Lizard.

    Missoula is in trouble.
    It’s your leadership.

  3. A couple of points. MSU has topped 15,000 students this year. Part of that is that for 3 years now, MSU has garnered the lions share of Montana high school graduates. That would be those ‘changing demographics’ Engstrom speaks of (weasel words if ever uttered in this context.)

    Yes, His salary is based on the compensation payed to Cruzado. But, there doesn’t seem to be a review of ROI from the Regents. If there were, Cruzado would be clearly a value for the money and Engstrom not so much.

    MSU is putting a considerable amount of funding into student retention, with verifiable results. The emphasis is on student success (graduation). What Engstrom is proposing for the U of M will help the retention effort for the school, but most of the proposals I have heard from him are gimmicks, shifting financial burden in the short term. But a free dorm room for one’s sophomore year comes at a price to somebody, yes?

    JC is absolutely right (try not to think that I just agreed strongly with him.) The U of M emphasis on athletics (mostly football) is a huge turnoff because the school’s sports programs are seen as tainted. The last time I wrote this here, I was accused of just being a Bobcat stooge. It’s strange that I’m not the only one anymore. I think that Monty will do well in the mascot challenge, the UM Football team will do very well this season (possibly better than the Bobcats) and many people will forget that the quarterback for this team went on trial for a rape that the administration of the UM tried it’s level best to cover up in its entirety. Funny thing, many people won’t forget. I will bet anyone here a 6 pack of chosen microbrew that every single commercial aired online for the UM in the next year will prominently feature the Grizzly football team and Monty as intro and outgo. Advertising a tainted program insults people, and is not good marketing. But I’ll also bet you that Engstrom likes it.

    He needs to go. The President of the U of M needs to go.

  4. JC

    Amazing how the U of M’s tune can change in just a year. Here’s the U of M statement on 9/30/2012:

    “Yes, last year was a difficult year for us,” [then UM interim vice president for integrated communications Peggy] Kuhr said. “We know people had questions about sexual assaults and the investigations, and we’re working hard to get the word out about how we’re addressing those issues.”

    Now it’s all about the forget part of “forgive and forget.”

  5. lizard19

    don’t worry guys, UM is going to build a 3 million dollar athlete study center. maybe they can bring in people to teach football players how not to rape women.

  6. Big Swede

    Bring Ron Natelson back.

    He’s your only hope.

  7. Bloated salaries like that make me sick and they make most Montanan’s sick; always have and always will.

    Outsiders to the state often come with entitlement issues, and this chap currently residing in Main Hall sure seems to have his.

    We’re just pissing away the state’s money here.

  1. 1 The Cost of Griz Nation | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] I wrote about UM’s enrollment problem, I made a snarky comment about the plans to build a 3 million dollar athlete study […]

  2. 2 University of Montana President paid $280,000 annually to preside over the Rape Capital of America | University of Montana Information

    […] 4&20 Blackbirds Article […]




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