by William Skink
A new report from the Chronicle of Higher Education highlights the uncomfortable fact that no other flagship University in the entire country has lost more students this decade than the University of Montana in Missoula.
Since 2011 the undergraduate count has dropped 30%. The only University that comes close to UM’s decline is the University of Alaska at 18%.
So what is contributing to this decade of plummeting enrollment? Is the curse of Jon Krakauer to blame? According to the article, in part, yes:
What’s behind the drop? One possible reason is a sexual-assault scandal.
Montana has faced intense scrutiny from the news media and the government for its handling of sexual-misconduct cases. In 2013, Montana officials agreed to overhaul the university’s policies after a joint investigation by the U.S. Departments of Justice and of Education.
In 2015 the author Jon Krakauer published a book about the scandal, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, that chronicled the painful experiences of several Montana students who reported sexual assaults. And last year the Education Department imposed a fine against Montana of nearly $1 million for alleged Clery Act violations. The university has appealed that outcome.
Paula Short, a spokeswoman for Montana, acknowledged the challenges the university has faced since the start of the decade but disputed the idea that its struggles could be traced to a single cause. After years of transition within the enrollment and admissions units, Short said Montana had found stability and is prepared to vigorously recruit students, from both inside the state and outside it.
“The president has put together a new team focused on student success, and one that hopes to excite students with the UM story,” Short said.
I agree with Short, the rape scandal is not the single cause of UM’s decline, but I understand how those outside our community would take the unique factor of a popular author’s focus as an easy explanation.
While Universities are behemoth institutions that do take time to change, I can’t help but think that UM harbors some un-quantifiable degree of arrogance/denial that never effectively dealt with what Krakauer identified.