College enrollment across Minnesota State system is up for first time in over a decade

Published 6:29 am Thursday, February 22, 2024

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By Feven Gerezgiher, Minnesota Public Radio News

College enrollment is up across the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system for the first time in over a decade, according to Chancellor Scott Olson.

The Minnesota State system consists of 33 public community and technical colleges and state universities around the state.

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While enrollment has been declining at colleges nationwide for years, Olson credits recent state investments in higher education for reversing the trend.

“Increasing financial support for students through new programs like the North Star Promise, as well as the state grant program, the emergency assistance grant program, the Minnesota American Indian scholarship program, and other things you’ve invested in, all help students make decisions about attending college,” Olson said while presenting to the State Senate higher education committee on Tuesday.

In a 2023 bill, the Minnesota Legislature allocated over $4 billion to higher education, then establishing two tuition- and fee-free pathways for Minnesota residents.

The North Star Promise Scholarship Program covers tuition and fees for an undergraduate education at Minnesota’s public two- and four-year colleges and universities. The program is available starting Fall 2024 for Minnesota residents with a family adjusted gross income below $80,000.

An estimated 15,000 students will benefit from the North Star program in its first year, according to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

The American Indian Scholars Program is for Minnesota residents who are enrolled members or citizens of a federally recognized American Indian Tribe or Canadian First Nation or who are enrolled members or citizens of Minnesota Tribal Nations, regardless of residency. It provides full tuition and fee waivers for students pursuing an undergraduate education at Minnesota’s public two- and four-year colleges and universities.

Olson reported enrollment improved 2 percent across the Minnesota State system in the 2023-2024 school year, for an estimated total of about 107,000 students across the system, with growth driven by increasing numbers in community and technical colleges. In comparison, Minnesota State had about 126,000 students in 2018-2019.

As of Tuesday, Olson said applications are up 18 percent in their system for fall 2024.

Minnesota State’s success reflects a national trend towards community colleges and shorter credential programs. In January, the National Student Clearinghouse reported enrollment growth was highest at community colleges for fall 2023. Enrollment for both certificate and associate degree programs grew by about 2 percent, compared to less than one percent for bachelor’s degrees.

“There’s optimism that this trend of annual enrollment growth will continue into the near and far future,” Olson said.

Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota said at the meeting that enrollment declined minimally at four of its five campuses between the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years. Overall, total system enrollment has fluctuated nominally over the past 10 years, generally holding around 67,000 to 68,000 students.

The two higher education institutions shared their enrollment numbers before making requests for millions of dollars in investments to improve aging facilities and supplement operating budgets.

The University of Minnesota is seeking $500 million to preserve and replace buildings, and $45 million for operating costs. Minnesota State is seeking $541.4 million for building preservation and replacement, and $61 million for operational spending.