“I was a minute late to my lecture and by the time I arrived there was only one seat left in the middle of the class. I’ve had to get there surprisingly early to get a seat,” Randi White, a sophomore in pre-nursing explained. A packed classroom is not out of the ordinary; in fact, now it seems to be the norm for most classes. Steadily increasing enrollment has made MSU the fastest growing school in Montana, and classrooms are filling up quicker than ever.
Although official numbers have not yet been released, the incoming freshman class is expected to be the biggest freshman class to date, eclipsing last year’s record number of 2,863 new students. Over the past five years, MSU’s enrollment has increased 20 percent.
Interim Director of the Office of Planning and Analysis, Chris Fastnow, explained the school is on track with the Strategic Plan of reaching 16,000 students by 2019. “We have started some of the growth a little faster and earlier than expected,” Fastnow said, “We’ve seen growth in a number of areas that we have anticipated and hoped for, such as [in] Gallatin College and graduate education as well as specific categories of students.”
Although the rapidly rising enrollment presents certain challenges for the school, EJ Hook, director of environmental services, voiced a positive outlook on the subject: “It’s a great problem to have; it means we’re doing something right as a school.”
Classroom space presents different challenges for faculty and students depending on the department. Steve Holmgren, professor in the chemistry and biochemistry department, has been teaching at MSU for 15 years and has observed a significant increase in enrollment in his classes. “Growth is good but there are certain challenges when it comes to taking care of the students. For instance I can only put so many students in a lab for safety reasons, so we have to create new sections,” Holmgren said. He noted that MSU has done well navigating the growth but described the growth as a “stress and a stretch.”
Benjamin Leubner, a professor in the english department, has not experienced obstacles out of the ordinary related to his classes. “I haven’t noticed many differences in my classes, and that may be particular to the department I’m in,” Leubner said.
On the student side, sophomore psychology major Jake Doneux does not feel as if he has been affected by the growth, “My classes in general have been pretty good sizes and it has been pretty easy to get into the classes I want.”
Over the next four years, the openings of two buildings will provide additional classroom space. The Jake Jabs College of Business, which is currently being built, is expected to open in fall 2015. The College of Engineering is in the planning phases and is expected to open in 2018.
With the increasing enrollment, MSU received an increase in state funding that is being put toward departments and additional classes aimed to keep students in school and graduating. State funding for MSU increased this summer by $2.3 million. The money is not related to the enrollment growth but rather is “performance based” money, given as an incentive to lower dropout numbers and raise graduation numbers.
“After 8 a.m., it usually takes around 10-15 minutes to find a parking spot,” sophomore Genna Shaia said. With yet another large freshman class, Shaia anticipates this problem is only going to get worse. “I think a lot of us are waiting for them to build another parking lot, it’d be cool if they did it soon,” Shaia said with a laugh.
Chief of University Police Robert Putzker explained that while there is not a set plan for a new parking lot, “right now administrators are considering a wide range of options from increasing current parking lots to even a parking garage.”
Accordint to Kurt Blunck, the manager of parking services for UPD, “Parking is an emotional topic on campus, we try to see that we have parking for everyone, the students, faculty, guests … we try and balance the different constituents.”
Although the College of Engineering is expected to be built on the paid parking lot across from the SUB, Blunck emphasized the parking spots the new building will occupy will not be lost, “We will replace the spaces that the COE building is going to occupy, and hopefully we will gain more spaces as well, but we are still not sure what that will look like,” Blunck said.
Housing for students is another dilemma MSU faces. At the start of the fall 2014 semester, 182 students who had applied for on-campus housing were without a permanent room assignment.
The displaced students, all of whom had applied for housing after June 1 were placed in temporary housing, such as guest rooms or lounges. As of Sept. 3, 89 students were in temporary housing; 36 of those students were placed in short-term temporary housing, which is in semi-public areas such as dorm room lounges. The other 53 students are in long-term temporary housing, such as guest rooms and apartments in complexes.The 36 displaced students are all male, “The issue is, there are no more places on campus for men,” Chief Housing Officer Tammie Brown said.
Brown noted that last year they added around 90 new spaces for dorm housing that were available for the fall 2013 semester. Quad F was remodeled which added room for 20 more beds and Gallatin Hall added 70 new beds. Additionally, 60 more beds were placed in Family and Graduate Housing this year, adding on to the 230 beds from Family and Graduate Housing that MSU devoted to freshman last year. A drawback to this solution is that while it provides more space for first time MSU students, it takes space away from those who wish to live in Family and Graduate Housing.
To suit the influx of students, a new residence hall is also being constructed and is expected to open in fall 2016. The 400 bed residence hall is being built north of the ASMSU Outdoor Recreation center and south of North and South Hedges.
Housing off campus has been a common complaint of students around campus as well. Kim Massey, a junior majoring in geology, cited a few issues related to housing. “It tends to be really expensive unless you have a bunch of people and it is rare to find a cheap, nice place that is close to campus. Places near campus also tend to be more run down,” Massey said.
Sophomore Cameron Carlson struggled to find housing for the school year, “Bozeman doesn’t seem to have the infrastructure when it comes to housing for the students. I live downtown without a car and that makes it difficult to get to school.”
MSU does not have any impact on off campus issues, such as housing, but some students voiced concern about how the growth of MSU will affect Bozeman as a community. Junior Allie Hay, majoring in psychology, discussed the increased enrollment, “The growth of MSU as a university directly affects the growth of Bozeman. I think part of the reason people come here is for the small town experience and they love the atmosphere in Bozeman. I don’t want our university to change the town,” Hay stated.
Samuel Guy, a junior majoring in criminology, has been a resident since 2001 and brings a long-term perspective to the discussion. Although Bozeman has developed over significantly the past 13 years, “The town hasn’t changed as much as I expected. Bozeman is still a tight knit community but I don’t want that feel to go away with this continuous development,” Guy said.