HELENA — Carroll College has reported a 12.5 percent decline in students compared to last year’s class, although still 5 percent higher than their fall 2018 low.
The private Catholic college has 270 new first-year students, and 51 transfer students and students readmitted to the college. The total number of students attending Carroll for the fall 2020 semester is 1,123.
The COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have been a big factor in not just Carroll’s fall enrollment, but colleges and universities nationwide.
“COVID-19 had a major impact on our freshman class, as it did nationally,” said Carroll College President John Cech.
Cech noted that that nationally student loan volume was down over 40%, indicating many students were taking a gap year and not attending college.
“The travel restrictions this spring kept many students from visiting, and across the country we are hearing many of these students are not attending college this fall but rather waiting for the COVID-19 situation to improve,” said Cech.
Standardized testing was also affected by COVID-19, and many students have been unable to take college entrance exams.
Carroll went test optional this year to help students still attend college who were unable to take the ACT or SAT due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although enrollment is down this fall, Carroll did see their second highest retention rate between freshmen to sophomores in the past 20 years at 83.5 percent. The average retention rate at other 4-year colleges and universities in Montana is 68 percent.
Cech says the college is already working with students who will enter the college next fall, and has increased merit scholarships to help make Carroll College more affordable. He also noted that so far students have taken the changes in stride at the college due to COVID-19.
“I see our students, faculty, and staff working very hard to keep each other safe and healthy. It’s not easy, but we all know it’s worth it for us to maintain the close-knit and personalized community we are known for,” said Cech.
Carroll College was one of only a few colleges in the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest to offer to pay for COVID-19 testing of all of its students upon their arrival.
“Based on the results from our first three weeks in school, I would say it really paid off,” said Cech.