Growth has been a focus at MSU over the last two years. Starting in 2012, a plan for expanding the university was put into action, pushing for progress in several areas.
The plan was formulated by the Strategic Planning Committee and the Planning Council, which took into consideration input from faculty, staff, students and community members, and referenced Montana University System’s strategic plan. Now in the second year of its implementation, some areas of this Strategic Plan already have reached or exceeded their goals, five years before the 2019 deadline for the plan’s completion. Administrators emphasized that as leaps and bounds toward the goals of the Strategic Plan are made, they are working to assure that students receive the highest quality education possible from the growing institution.
With growing enrollment and a constant amount of available class space, it seems as though overcrowding would become a serious issue on campus. Chris Fastnow, director of planning and analysis at MSU, stated that the university has been able to more efficiently use its available spaces in recent years. “We’ve been implementing software to more effectively schedule our classes,” she said. Outside of the realm of class scheduling, Fastnow said that services for students and class times that were formerly only utilizing spaces during normal business hours are now open later. The change adds more overall class space as rooms are used for longer hours and more availability for students that have daytime commitments, allowing them to work toward their education.
In spite of these changes to the scheduling of classes and increase in the amount, a need for new class spaces still exists, said Associate Vice President of University Services Robert Lashaway. One aspect of the strategic plan is stewardship; the responsible management and allocation of the different resources at the university. As the number of students enrolled in classes rises, administrators and faculty alike recognize the need to upgrade existing spaces and create new space for educational purposes.
Lashway emphasized that the university is putting resources towards bringing instructional spaces up to date. “We’ve done quite a few upgrades to modernize classrooms,” he said. This modernization of these spaces has focused on utilizing technology and making the spaces that do exist now available for all. Lashaway said that making campus more handicap accessible has been a top priority when upgrading facilities. “The focus has been on student instructional environments . . . a big piece of that has been ADA upgrades,” he said.
As the leadership of MSU pushes forward in the Strategic Plan, some students feel that the growth is coming faster than the existing infrastructure can handle. Fastnow was quick to cite statistics about enrollment to disprove this notion. “We saw more students graduate last year than ever before . . . [which] helps to keep growth at a manageable rate,” she said. Fastnow also pointed out that meeting the 16,000 student enrollment goal for 2019 is still right on track, not ahead of the curve as many believe it to be.
Growth at MSU has been a hot topic as of late, and for good reason. Since the 2009-2010 academic year when the Strategic Plan was put in place, graduate studies enrollment has experienced a jump from 1,924 students to 2,030 and doctoral enrollment has increased from 401 to 481. Graduation rates, retention rates and the percent of graduates that secured jobs in their field have also jumped; the percent of graduates that are employed in their field went up from 57 percent in 2009-2010 to the current level of 66 percent.
The administration discussed how they will work to better campus in all of its aspects as this growth continues, from creating more class spaces to upgrading existing ones so students can receive a better education. Lashaway made it clear that while the university has seen success in achieving its goals so far, work is never done when it comes to improving MSU, “You’re never done planning,” he said.