MANKATO — While preliminary numbers show enrollment at Minnesota State University is higher than it was 10 years ago, St. Cloud State University is in its fifth straight year of decline.

MSU overtook St. Cloud in terms of enrollment two years ago, according to numbers from the Minnesota State Colleges and University system. In 2012, enrollment at St. Cloud dropped for the second year in a row, going from 14,976 full-year equivalent students to 13,938. In comparison, MSU’s enrollment continued to rise, hitting 14,443 full-year equivalents in 2012.

Both colleges lost students in 2013 — St. Cloud dropped to 13,053 and MSU to 14,194.

Preliminary numbers show MSU’s overall enrollment will either increase or remain steady this year, said Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management David Jones.

“We’re excited to be able to share that it will be our fifth year in a row where we eclipsed 15,000 students,” Jones said.

The number is a headcount of all students, he said. For the fall semester, there are 6,583 full-year equivalents which, so far, is up 0.4 percent from last year. Total enrollment sits at about 15,200 students, the university's 10th or 11th largest enrollment. Last year’s was 15,409. The college has also, for the first time in its history, eclipsed 1,000 international students.

Both numbers are likely to change slightly during the course of the month, as students continue to enroll or drop out, Jones said. But the college is still setting records.

“We’ve been on a roll here really since 2002, when President (Richard) Davenport came on board,” he said.

MnSCU’s second largest institution, St. Cloud State, is not seeing the same growth. There, enrollment may have dipped by up to 5 percent this fall, but university officials say they won’t know until the end of the month, the St. Cloud Times recently reported.

In fact, nearly every institution in the MnSCU system is expecting enrollment declines. Systemwide, enrollment is expected to drop 3.5 percent this year.

The low numbers have led to budgetary issues at more than one of the institutions. Though the legislature recently signed off on a two-year tuition freeze, fees that support auxiliary facilities such as residence halls, student unions, parking and more, are going up. Across the entire system, room and board fees will increase an average of 3.65 percent and student union fees will increase by an average of 1.55 percent in fiscal year 2015, according to the finance committee.

Room and board fees are slated to go up by 4 to 5 percent at MSU this year, budget documents show. Student union fees are to go up by about 2 percent.

St. Cloud asked for permission to further raise its student life/activity and health services fees this year to help make up for recent enrollment declines and increasing health care costs. It is facing a potential $10 million budget deficit.

Marketing for new students

Marketing efforts have helped temper the enrollment decline at MSU, said Media Relations Director Dan Benson. That could be part of the reason the college now has higher enrollment numbers than any other institution in the MnSCU system, he said.

“The integrated marketing team works closely with the office of administration here to coordinate our efforts for attracting prospective students,” Benson said, adding that the university employs a mix of advertising channels to reach soon-to-be-high-school-graduates and their parents.

The university has two TV commercials that run here and in the Twin Cities area. It also has several billboards in the metro, advertises on the Star Tribune website and takes out ads in Minnesota Monthly.

“We’ve been producing TV spots and buying billboards for quite a few years, and we think that’s an effective way to reach prospective students over time, both prospective students and their parents,” Benson said. “Over time we think that it helps familiarize them with Minnesota State University, Mankato, as they see the spots over the years.”

Jones said the university has been receiving record numbers of applications for the past three years. The university is well situated geographically, which explains some of the draw, he said. It is also known for its affordability.

Going forward, the goal is to attract even more students and increase enrollment, he said.

“Obviously we want to try to serve as many students that make sense for our various programs throughout the university,” Jones said. “We feel we’re in a really good position for that right now.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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