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Fall enrollment down at Fargo-Moorhead four-year colleges

FARGO - Total enrollment fell at all of the four-year colleges in Fargo-Moorhead this fall. North Dakota State University saw a 1.6 percent decrease from 2014's total enrollment, while Minnesota State University Moorhead saw a 7.5 percent drop an...

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FARGO – Total enrollment fell at all of the four-year colleges in Fargo-Moorhead this fall.

North Dakota State University saw a 1.6 percent decrease from 2014's total enrollment, while Minnesota State University Moorhead saw a 7.5 percent drop and Concordia College saw an 8 percent drop.

That's a change of pace for the metro's largest campus, which has been growing almost every year since 1997. But NDSU Provost Beth Ingram said she isn't worried because most of this year's decline was in part-time and online-only students.

"We're really trying to focus on full-time, residential students, and the students that are going to come here and get a degree and stay in the community and work," she said.

NDSU is enrolling more full-time students, as well as more North Dakota residents, Ingram said. Total enrollment, which includes undergraduates and graduate students, was 14,516, down from 14,747 in 2014. But the first-year freshman class this fall was 2,552, up from 2,469 last year.

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Meanwhile, MSUM and Concordia's enrollments continue to decline, with MSUM's dipping into the 5,000s for the first time in at least two decades.

"We knew the numbers were going to be down," said Doug Peters, MSUM's director of athletics and interim vice president for enrollment management and student affairs. "Across the country, small public regional universities have been challenged with enrollment."

The fall total was 5,836, down from 6,306. Part of that is a shrinking pool of high school graduates in this region, combined with a strong job market, Peters said.

For Concordia, the decline also has to do with the rise of for-profit schools.

"Some of the market has followed them," said Karl Stumo, vice president for enrollment and marketing.

Concordia's optimal enrollment is 2,400, and last year's fall enrollment of 2,368 was close. But enrollment fell to 2,177 this year, and the private college is already planning new recruitment efforts, Stumo said.

Those include visiting more high schools and hosting more events in communities with Concordia alumni, which the school is now finding through data analysis.

"To actually do the calculation of the numbers of alums, the numbers of prospective students, the yield rate from each one of these areas - that level of data analysis is new this year," Stumo said.

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MSUM is also ramping up its recruitment efforts, starting with the students "in our backyard," as Peters says.

"We think we can do a better job in the Fargo-Moorhead and the surrounding area," especially as the community grows, he said.

MSUM is also planning to expand its presence in the Twin Cities.

In 1990, MSUM had more than 9,000 students, which was a higher enrollment than NDSU at the time. Now, the university's optimal enrollment is 7,500, Peters said.

"It's going to take some work to get there, but we think it's very doable," he said.

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