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Guessing game on college enrollment becomes reality today

Today marks the first day of classes at several colleges in the state, including the University of Minnesota.

This can be a nerve wracking time for college officials, who will find out if they hit their enrollment targets. Too few students can mean revenue shortfalls. Too many students can overwhelm classrooms and dorms.

If that's not enough pressure, enrollment officials say it's getting harder to guess how many students will show up in fall.

At the University of Minnesota, knowing how many freshmen are going to show up on campus is more than just a guessing game.

University officials wanted 5,230, but for the second year in a row, they're going to have more freshmen than they expected.


This year it's about 50 more, which officials say is a manageable overshot. They won't have problems finding housing for those extra students or squeezing them into classes on the Twin Cities campus.

At the university’s Duluth campus, however, 120 students are being housed in a hotel because of crowded on-campus housing. More student transfers and fewer housing cancellations caused the overflow, officials said.

Getting to class

The situation highlights something college officials are seeing across the state: More freshmen who've been accepted to college are following through and showing up.

That’s puzzling to Bob McMaster, the U of M's dean of undergraduate education.

"I suspect there's an economic base for it, but we really don't know," McMaster said.

The economic reasoning could be this: Students who in past years might have attended an out-of-state school or a more expensive private college are choosing to go the U of M. Tuition and housing is about $17,000 a year at the U. Tuition alone averages $30,000 a year at the state's private non-profit schools.

The problem with that theory is that some private college officials say they're seeing the same phenomenon.


Lorne Robinson, dean of admissions and financial aid at Macalester College in St. Paul, said the college will have about 20 more freshmen on campus this fall than expected.

That shouldn't cause problems, school officials say. It's not like last year, when 85 more showed up. For many of those students, home sweet home on campus was a renovated study lounge in a dorm.

Reasons unclear

Robinson doesn't have an answer, economic or otherwise, as to why more freshmen are showing up on campus.

"Honestly I've looked because this is my life," he said. "This is my job. I'm curious to see if there are patterns to people's decisions. At this point, there doesn't seem to be a pattern."

Another admissions director does think there's a solid correlation between the economy and the number of freshmen showing up on his campus.

Brian Jones, at Minnesota State University-Mankato, said last year, freshmen enrollment there took a slight dip.

He heard from students who wanted to attend Mankato and had been accepted but decided instead to live at home and take their first two years of classes at a community college.


For the state's community and technical colleges, the economy is key to predicting what enrollment will be.

Last year, enrollment at Riverland Community College was up about 13 percent and this year's increase looks to be as high as 5 percent. Rochester Community and Technical College is seeing a surge as well.

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