FARGO - Declining enrollment at North Dakota State University is expected to cost the university some $5 million in lost revenue, the university said Tuesday, Sept. 18.

That appears to include loss of tuition and loss of state funding, which is based on the number of credit-hours completed by students; fewer students means fewer credits.

The official fall headcount of 13,796 students reported Tuesday, though higher than initial numbers from a month ago, is 562 less than in fall 2017, a 4 percent decrease. It's the worst enrollment decrease in numerical and percentage terms that NDSU has faced since 1990.

The University of North Dakota's fall enrollment also declined. The official headcount of 13,847 was 559 less than last fall, a 4 percent decrease. Some smaller institutions in the North Dakota University System also saw enrollment decrease but not by nearly as much - North Dakota State College of Science is one - and several saw enrollment increase - Valley City State University and Mayville State University both boasted record enrollment.

NDSU to try harder

NDSU President Dean Bresciani told the campus community in an email Tuesday that the university is not alone in enrollment woes among its peers in regional states.

"All indications show that we have entered a more competitive landscape due to long-term regional demographics," he said in the email. "The schools that will fare best in this environment are those where people work together as a community."

Administrators already had some inkling this past summer that enrollment would suffer, and Bresciani said he took action, including by providing more resources for admissions staff and creating the Strategic Enrollment Management Coordinating Group to find ways to turn the enrollment trend around.

NDSU is already acting on one of the group's recommendations, he said: offering more students guaranteed first-year scholarships, which are based on grade-point averages and ACT or SAT scores.

The university's enrollment decrease is primarily among first-year students, which means its impact would be felt for the next several years. Administrators had estimated a $4.4 million loss in revenue in July when the projected enrollment decrease was only 300. NDSU's budget in the 2017-2019 biennium is $129.1 million after lawmakers decided on an 18 percent budget cut from the previous biennium.

Bresciani said fewer students at NDSU will likely have an impact on the local economy, which counts on the university to bring in out-of-state students to contribute to the future labor force.

NDSU's enrollment has been declining since 2015 while UND's has been declining since 2013, with the exception of one year when the headcount increased less than a percent.

Opposite view from UND

UND said one factor in its lower headcount was changes made last fall that allowed students to graduate earlier than they would otherwise, including reducing the number of credits required to be more in line with other universities. If not for that, the university would have seen 350 more students this fall, assuming all returned to school.

The university also said it decided to focus more on bringing in students who were more academically prepared, which also decreased enrollment.

"As such, we anticipated having a dip in enrollment as the larger classes graduated and smaller, yet stronger academic, classes enrolled," Provost Thomas DiLorenzo said in a news release.

UND President Mark Kennedy said he anticipates all this will translate into better retention and graduation rates.

Around North Dakota

Overall, the North Dakota University System reported a total headcount of 45,882, which is 905 less than last fall, a 2 percent decrease. North Dakota State College of Science, with a main campus in Wahpeton and a branch in Fargo, reported a headcount of 2,957, which is 28 less than last fall, a 1 percent decrease. VCSU reported a headcount of 1,547, which is 25 more than last fall, a 2 percent increase. Mayville State University reported a headcount of 1,184, which is 44 more than last fall, a 4 percent increase.

Both MSU and VCSU have seen increasing enrollment during the past several years.

For Mayville State, this fall marks the eighth straight record enrollment. Andrew Pflipsen, the university's vice president for student affairs, said in a news release that it's a reflection of how hard faculty and staff have worked to ensure student success.

VCSU's interim president Margaret Dahlberg said in a news release that her university also has been finding ways to improve the educational experience. "Strategic growth doesn't happen by accident - it takes dedication and commitment - and I applaud the community for these achievements that come from working together."