Packing them in: Tech sees biggest freshman class in nearly 40 years

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Michigan Technological University students walk to class Monday. Tech saw a 102-student jump in enrollment this fall, including a 23% increase in freshmen.

HOUGHTON — Michigan Technological University’s freshman class is up 23% from last fall, making it the biggest since 1982, the university said.

“We’re pleased to see the number of students that recognize the excellence here at Michigan Tech, and also the beautiful location that Tech is in, and the great community that we get to be a part of,” President Rick Koubek said.

Freshman enrollment was up across all colleges at Tech, Koubek said. The biggest increases came in the College of Computing, which launched in 2019, and the College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science.

Koubek gave three reasons for the increase. First, doing more outreach to tell students about the experience they’ll have at Tech. Students’ increased focus on outcomes also benefits Tech, Koubek said. The university ranked 18th in the country for return on investment for students, according to a BestColleges analysis.

Koubek thinks students are also placing more value on experiential learning, which Tech benefits from, given its size and hands-on learning approach.

“I think when you bring all those pieces together, it adds up to growing enrollment for Michigan Tech,” he said.

While early projections had the overall number of students declining, the total amount is up as well — 6,977, up from 6,875 last fall. The increase is a return to a pattern of growth that had been interrupted by COVID last year, Koubek said.

“The steady growth, I think it’s going to be part of our future for quite some time,” he said.

Koubuek said the university is also engaged in a master planning process to envision what the campus will look like with 10,000 students. The report, which included meetings with community, faculty, staff and students, is expected to be finished by the end of the year, Koubek said. Among other things, the master plan will include addressing crowding issues in areas such as classrooms and parking, Koubek said.

The issue of housing and parking for Tech students has been a frequent topic at recent Houghton city meetings, with debates about how much parking to accommodate and where it might be located.

“One area I appreciate with regard to Tech is the sense of partnership we have with the community,” Koubek said. “Tech values that, and those are conversations we want to have together.”

This year’s freshman class is also Tech’s most diverse, with 162 students from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups. The 2,054 women enrolled at Tech is also at an all-time high, accounting for 29% of the population.

Tech’s recently hired vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion is helping to develop a strategic plan to ensure “all students find this a positive and welcoming environment where they can reach their full potential while they’re pursuing their college studies,” Koubek said.

“We certainly work hard to be sure that people know that Tech should be a destination point for all students,” he said.

Projections show Tech having an all-time high of $81.7 million in research expenditures, up 5% from 2019-20. Those increases were across the board, Koubek said.

“Our faculty have done an outstanding job, particularly during the constraints that COVID put upon them, to continue their research active status,” he said. “I think that’s reflected in some of the research funding numbers. That’s a tribute to the quality faculty we have at Michigan Tech.”

The university’s COVID response continues, including wastewater monitoring and the operation of its COVID testing lab. Tech is currently at Level Two of its COVID Flex Plan, which requires masks be worn inside all university buildings. The mask mandate, which began in early August, was set to last at least five weeks; Koubek said it is too soon to say if the requirement will be extended.

Universiting testing found fewer than 10 cases between Aug. 17 and Aug. 31, according to Tech’s COVID-19 dashboard. As of Sept. 2, Houghton County was at 89.6 weekly cases per 100,000 people — one of nine counties in the state where the risk had been downgraded to “substantial” instead of “high” by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention metrics. It was the first time in a month Houghton County had fallen below the 100-case threshold for “high.”

“We’re still watching all our indicators very closely,” Koubek said.


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