Minnesota State system optimistic about enrollment during House hearing

Minnesota State system optimistic about enrollment during House hearing

Minnesota State system optimistic about enrollment during House hearing

The push to improve enrollment within the Minnesota State system was addressed at the Capitol on Monday. System leaders testified about the status of its colleges and universities during a Minnesota House Higher Education Committee meeting.

“Enrollment is going in the right direction,” said Chancellor Scott Olson. “Most of our colleges are seeing stronger enrollment this year.”

According to Minnesota State data, enrollment fell by more than 20,000 students system-wide from 2019 to 2023. Estimates for fiscal year 2024 show a slight improvement, with enrollment expected to increase from 105,497 to 106,139 students.

“Over the last year and a half, when I started it was really dead on campus, and now I think, ‘[The] parking lot is almost always full,’” said Joe Dornfeld, a second-year finance student at Saint Paul College. “Definitely noticing an increase in people.”

Minnesota State leaders attribute the gain, in part, to $75 million in funding passed last session, which allowed the system to freeze tuition rates for two years. The anticipated North Star Promise Scholarship Program, which will allow qualifying students to go to school tuition-free starting next fall, also contributed.

“It’s helping students. It’s helping the state of Minnesota,” Olson said. “Affordability for our students especially is something of critical importance.”

While system-wide there have been improvements due to an increase in enrollment at colleges, universities haven’t seen a turnaround yet. Rep. Nathan Coulter, DFL-Bloomington, questioned the disparity.

“The reason why universities are a little slower to come out of the pandemic decline is just the length of time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree than an associate’s degree,” Olson explained. “Most of our universities saw a much bigger first-year class this year but the first-year class wasn’t big enough to make up for the smaller junior and senior classes.”

Minnesota State has launched a media campaign through December to raise awareness about North Star Promise scholarships. During October, the system also waived all application fees and focused on outreach through open houses.

“I’m happy to tell you that system-wide we’ve had a 13% increase in applications this October versus last October,” said Olson.

Dornfeld agrees raising awareness about the support available for students will be critical to increasing enrollment.

“If you’re not aware, you don’t know you can’t benefit from it,” he said.