Huge Freshman Class Strains Campus
A record 4,600 are coming as total enrollment nears 27,000
|Above, Tremayne Smith, one of the tour guides during freshman orientation, welcomes parents and new students to campus. Below, new students learn about clubs and organizations at an activities fair. |
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niversity officials were working overtime to prepare for a record 4,600 or more freshmen about to hit town for fall semester, up about 400 from just last year. The surge is straining campus facilities and forcing some unprecedented maneuvers. At the last minute, the university was forced to lease private apartments around Greenville to house 300 freshmen still on a waiting list for dorm rooms. Officials also were rounding up at least 50 additional faculty members and converting the ground floor of one residence hall as their offices. Total enrollment should be around 27,000, up about 1,000 students since this time last year.
With the campus full to bursting, this may be the last semester that East Carolina’s enrollment grows at the heady pace that it has for five years running. A task force appointed by Chancellor Steve Ballard is preparing recommendations for a fall report that many believe will propose raising ECU’s admissions standards as a means of managing enrollment growth.
Demand prompted the university to schedule an additional orientation session this summer, which were attended by 4,498 incoming freshmen and their parents. Seven of the two-day sessions were offered last year, attended by 3,900 new freshmen and their parents. “If we just go by the numbers from orientation, which generally is a good guide, I would say the freshman class would be around 4,700,” Admissions Director Anthony Britt says. “But to be conservative, I would say it would be between 4,500 and 4,600 freshmen. Either way, it will be a record.”.
While 4,600 freshmen is a big number, it is only about a quarter of the roughly 16,000 high school freshmen who applied for admission, Britt says. His office also evaluated about 3,000 applications from students hoping to transfer to East Carolina from some other college and admitted less than half of them.
ECU's move to lease blocks of private apartments for students who couldn't get in a dorm came as a surprise. East Carolina has no plans at present to build additional residence halls, but an Atlanta company has begun construction on a private dormitory overlooking the Tar River on First Street in downtown Greenville. The building is expected to be ready by next fall semester. Place Properties of Atlanta is developing the four-story, 193-unit building, to be called First Street Place. The company currently owns private dorms serving N.C. State University, UNC Charlotte and UNC Pembroke.
The apartments the university is leasing will have all the same safety features as on-campus dorms. Officials say the move will cost $600,000, which should mostly be covered by rents paid by the students. The plan is to move as many of them as possible to campus as dorm rooms become available later in the semester.
The estimated freshman class of 4,600 compares with 2,819 10 years ago. Then, total enrollment was 18,263; it will be roughly 27,000 this fall. “Every indication is we will grow to 36,000 within 10 years or less,” Britt says, citing enrollment targets set for East Carolina by the UNC Board of Governors.
“The bottom line is we are seeing more applicants and better applicants,” Britt says. “They are more well-rounded in terms of extracurricular things and leadership opportunities and an increasing number have college credits when they arrive [from taking community college courses.]” The average SAT score of admitted freshman was 1,044 last year; it’s 1,056 this year.
After talking to hundreds of parents and students during orientation sessions, Britt says he repeatedly hears three reasons cited for ECU’s popularity. “I would say the biggest reason I hear them say is the diversity of academic programs offered and that we offer enough of those classes so students can complete their degree in four years.
“Kids these days want to study something they can get a good job doing after college. The degrees we offer in the health care field are very attractive. We are getting a lot of questions about the new dental school, and I believe that will only add to the interest by incoming students in our health care offerings.
“Second, I hear folks comment all the time about what a beautiful campus we have. They say it looks like a college campus ought to look, with the traditional grassy mall surrounded by classroom buildings and residence halls. One student at orientation who was interested in studying art said she didn’t have any trouble finding the art building because of all the statues and works of art around the building.
“Third, they talk about how warm and welcoming the people are here. They say everyone they meet is friendly. One woman said she got lost and a student came up to her and said, ‘Can I help you find where you need to go?’ And when he had gotten her there, she said she thanked the student for helping with orientation, and he replied, ‘Oh, I’m not a tour guide. You just looked like you needed help.’” Getting acclimated
For most, attending orientation was their first time on campus since being admitted. The two–day sessions begin with check-in and walking tours of the main campus, followed by registration for fall classes, placement tests, and learning about life as a student. The experience was an eye-opener for many.
“I didn’t realize it was such a close-knit college,” said incoming freshman James Jeter of Fayetteville, who attended orientation with his parents, Bruce and Linda. “I just figured it was a big school, just a bunch of people. But they do care here. They care about the students, they care that we succeed.”
The goal of orientation is to acclimate new students to the place they will call home for the next four years, and to introduce them to the mechanics of academic and social life. Students learn about Banner, OneStop, Blackboard and other technological resources. They also are introduced to extracurricular activities and organizations at the Student Involvement Fair. Many questions focus on financial matters—including university fees, payment options, and even meetings with representatives from local banks.
Janet Taylor of Mount Olive attended orientation with her only child, daughter Courtney, and said efforts by the Office of Admissions to make parents feel welcome and informed helped her feel better about Courtney leaving home for college. “It’s hard. She’s the only one. But I feel good about it because everyone here is so helpful. I really feel she’ll be good here. She’s met a lot of people already, and she’s excited about her classes,” Taylor said.
New students and parents were formally welcomed to ECU in Wright Auditorium by Phyllis Horns, interim vice chancellor for health sciences and interim dean of the Brody School of Medicine; Associate Provost Austin Bunch; Kemal Atkins, vice provost for student affairs; and ECU student Andrew Griffin. Together they offered encouragement and insight into what it means to become a member of the ECU community.
“Every person, every student on this campus, has the opportunity to grow and learn,” said Horns. “How to be a really productive citizen, how to engage with people who are different from the people you know from high school and your local communities—that’s as important a part of the educational experience, we believe here at East Carolina University, as anything that you learn in the classroom.”
Griffin offered himself as an example of what to do, and what not to do, to succeed in college. “Go to class, go to class, go to class,” he said to loud applause from parents. “I used to not go to class, and that didn’t work. So now I do go to class and I make good grades. It’s amazing.”
He also encouraged students to get involved on campus and take the opportunities afforded at ECU to try new things. “Whatever your name was in high school, or whatever you were classified as, it’s over. You are in college. You have a chance to reinvent yourself, and a chance to be whatever you want to be,” he said. At capacity
It’s doubtful whether East Carolina can continue growing at the blistering pace it has recorded in recent years. According to Marilyn Sheerer, interim provost and vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, the campus has about reached its maximum physical capacity. “There are no empty classrooms; there are no empty faculty offices. We are full,” she says emphatically.
“Because of the enrollment growth, [this summer] we had to hire new faculty members. To accommodate them, we are in the process of converting the ground floor of Umstead Residence Hall into faculty offices,” she says.
“We had nowhere else to go,” she adds. “We are in a critical situation with space. We are looking at renting more space off campus.” The university badly needs two additional, large classroom buildings and has made their construction a top priority. One would provide additional space for biology and science classes; the other would provide a new home for the growing colleges of Education and Business.
“One short-term option would be to take one of the residence halls and refurbish it [as classrooms] and replace it with a new residence hall. We are looking at establishing some public-private partnerships for residence halls,” Sheerer says. “Wilmington has some new dorms on campus but they were built by a private entity and leased to the university.”
In the meantime, administrators are trying to get maximum use out of existing space, particularly Joyner Library. But the only solution is a major injection of money. “We are hoping for another [$3 billion] state bond issue like we had a few years ago. Something on that scale is the only thing that will address the need.”