MISSOULA - The president of the University of Montana gave an optimistic take on the state of the institution and its future on Monday, saying growth, research and innovation were on the rise.
Seth Bodnar joined Missoula County Commissioner Juanita Vero and Mayor John Engen in the State of the Community address hosted annually by City Club Missoula. While local governments face a litany of challenges, the university is recovering from a decade of hurdles.
“It’s really an exciting time to be a Grizzly,” said Bodnar. “Our job, ultimately, is to provide opportunity for people from all starting points and all walks of life and help every individual on campus and in our community achieve their full potential. That’s what we’re focused on.”
For the first time in 10 years, the university’s enrollment has begun to rebound. This year’s freshman class was 30% larger than last year’s class and Bodnar said indications for next fall look good.
Retention rates have also improved over the past three years with around 75% of new students continuing into their second year. That’s up from 68%, Bodnar said.
“More important than just getting students here is making sure we’re proving the right support system and the right environment, not just for students to come here but to persist and succeed here,” Bodnar said. “We’ve put a heavy emphasis on student success.”
While recruitment and retention are on the mend, the university has excelled in research. It recently received Research 1 status from the Carnegie classifications, placing it among the top 4% of all universities in the country.
Bodnar labeled it as one of the most significant achievements in school history. Of the top Research 1 schools in the county, only two don’t have a medical or engineering school, those being UM and the University of Oregon.
“Our research has more than doubled over the last five to six years,” Bodnar said. “UM is currently the sixth fastest-growing research university in the country.”
Bodnar said the school is also in the midst of the largest infrastructure overhaul in recent years, if not school history. The work includes upgrades to dorms, classrooms, dining facilities, and athletic facilities.
While the work adds up to millions of dollars in improvements, UM is not building luxury, Bodnar said.
“We need facilities that are up to 21st century standards. That’s what’s really driving our efforts today,” he said.
Of the improvements, a new building for the Montana Museum of Art and Culture may be the most publicly anticipated project. The museum has been discussed for years but is just now coming to fruition.
It’s expected to open in the fall of 2023.
“Over the past 13 decades, we’ve had this wonderful collection — the oldest and largest collection in the entire state,” Bodnar said. “But only 1% of that entire collection has been displayed to the public. This museum will serve our community, our students as a learning space, and Missoula as a center of the arts.”