September 4, 2008

Some Colleges Overbook Freshman Class

By Mary Beth Marklein

Colleges experiencing larger-than-expected freshman enrollments are scrambling to relieve overcrowding in dorms, classrooms, cafeterias and elsewhere.

Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina closed its freshman admissions in July and asked faculty to teach extra courses after projecting the freshman class would break its 2005 record of 1,083 by hundreds.

Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., which expects to enroll 89 more freshmen than its target of 950, gave laptops or a $1,000 tuition break to 168 students who agreed to live three to a room instead of two.

Central Oregon Community College in Bend anticipates a 13% jump in first-time students when classes start Sept. 22. It plans to run bus service to a church about a mile away that is letting the school use 134 parking spaces.

An overall increase in freshmen was likely, in part because the number of high school graduates rose this year. Also, lower-tuition public institutions traditionally attract more students during a weak economy.

Yet the huge spikes some colleges are reporting as classes begin suggest how hard it is "to hit the nail right on the head" when planning for enrollments, says Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. He is tracking enrollment patterns at the group's 2,000 member colleges.

Schools usually set enrollment goals years in advance, then adjust as the admissions cycle runs its course.

Not all schools were caught by surprise this year. California's Pomona College is "literally one student over our original plan," admissions dean Bruce Poch says.

At Ohio's University of Dayton, though, the freshman class is up 12% over last year. It usually sees a drop-off, once classes start, in out-of-state students who made spring deposits.

"That didn't happen" this year, says Sundar Kumarasamy, vice president for enrollment management. The school expects to pass its target by about 220 students -- three-fourths of them from out of state. It added at least 60 sections of introductory courses and hired two full-time faculty members to ease the crush.

How other schools are dealing with increases:

*The University of Missouri in Columbia, which last week welcomed about 785 more freshmen than last year, a 16% increase, relieved pressure on fast-filling introductory Spanish sections by encouraging students to explore less popular languages, such as Chinese.

*Connecticut's University of New Haven, which passed its freshman target by about 450 students, or 57%, is offering extra vacation days or $50 gas gift cards to faculty who park farther from campus or use mass transit.

*Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C., which saw record enrollments of freshman and transfer students when classes started Aug. 25, is urging faculty and staff who have flexible schedules to avoid the cafeteria during peak lunch hours so students aren't late to classes.

*St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, where freshman enrollments are up by 250 more than expected, has added staff and increased hours of operation at the campus health and counseling centers.

*A few states freeze

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