UNC Charlotte is set to begin classes Monday with the largest freshman class in the school’s history, its size surprising even enrollment officials.
Unofficially, the class numbers about 3,600 – with more from other states than ever before. That’s up nearly 500 freshmen from last year’s biggest freshman class ever.
The official class size won’t be determined until late August, after UNCC tabulates how many freshmen who said they were coming actually enroll and how many others stay enrolled, said Tina McEntire, associate provost for enrollment management.
Whatever the number, it’ll be a long ways from 1946, when the school opened as a small center for GIs returning from World War II. Its first graduating class numbered 23.
McEntire credited the growth to recruiting, attention from a prestigious scholarship, the lure of Charlotte and UNCC’s new football program.
In a lingering bad economy, UNCC is also a relative bargain for students who might have opted for more expensive private schools.
McEntire had planned for about as many freshmen as last year’s class of 3,170 – despite an 11.8 percent uptick in undergraduate applications and an 8.9 percent rise in transfer applications last spring over the previous year.
The surge allowed UNCC to be more selective.
By April 1, the number of commitments to attend had risen only 1 percent or 2 percent. A month later, commitments were up 16 percent, sending McEntire scrambling to alert to services such as housing, food and orientation that they’d need to prepare for a significantly larger class.
UNCC officials don’t anticipate any strains from the extra 500 students.
To make for more housing space, the university quickly scuttled summer plans to demolish an on-campus apartment building. It is out-dated, and other housing and dining facilities are under construction.
“If I’d announced the increase one month later, (the dorm) would have already been torn down,” McEntire said.
The school also added two more freshmen orientation programs.
“What we didn’t want was for these freshmen to enroll and find a campus that was overwhelmed,” McEntire said. “They’re going to find that the preparations were pretty seamless.”
Reasons for the surge
The factors are many for the surge in interest for UNCC.
For starters, the school has worked hard to grow the past five years, sending a team of counselors and assistant directors to recruit at college fairs.
Initially, they concentrated on New York and New Jersey, but in recent years they’ve expanded their recruitment into other states such as Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and heavily in Virginia.
“New York and New Jersey have always been good states for us,” McEntire said. “But now we are beginning to see the fruits of our efforts in these other states.
“That is good for the university. The out-of-state students pay more money and they add to the diversity of the classroom experience.”
Around the country, UNCC’s Levine Scholarships have raised the university’s profile.
In 2009, Charlotte philanthropists Leon and Sandra Levine donated $9.3 million over 10 years to establish the merit scholarships aimed at developing leaders.
UNCC and the Levines hope to have at least 60 Levine Scholars on campus by 2014, each getting a full ride for four years. The third class of 17 scholars starts Monday, pushing the number of scholars to 46.
Freshman Tanner Parks of Atlanta is a member of that class.
He had an opportunity to go to three other schools, including his in-state flagship University of Georgia, but the scholarship and UNCC’s architecture school drew him to Charlotte.
“The architecture program is a combination of everything I love about school – art, writing and math,” Parks said. “When my mom and I toured the campus last fall, it was clear that UNC Charlotte is a school on the rise. All the new buildings – it was clearly growing.
“I could see myself going here from the get-go.”
He moved into his residence hall Thursday and met students from all along the East Coast. “I’d heard it’s a school of mainly in-state students, but I’ve met ones from as far away as Buffalo, N.Y.,” he said. “It’s been a great surprise.”
The scholarship has drawn attention from school counselors from across the country, McEntire said.
Last spring, a group of high school counselors from Seattle visited the campus to see UNCC and hear about the scholarship.
“Until two years ago, we never had any visits like this,” McEntire said. “The last two years, we’ve had five or six groups visit. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s significant.”
And then there’s the fledgling football team, scheduled to kick off Aug. 31, 2013 against Campbell University.
“We’ve received a lot of positive press about football,” she said. “We do feel a lot of students are excited about being a part of a program that’s starting. It’s become a part of our recruitment: We tell students, ‘You enroll here and you’ll be among the first class to see football for the first time. You can say you were here at the beginning.’ ”
Parks wanted to go to a school with a football team “to experience school spirit.”
He’s sure to be at the 49ers’ first game.
“The line here is that we’re undefeated,” he said. “I hate to see that go, but it’ll be fun to be a part of something new.”
The lure of Charlotte, too, has become a big part of the recruitment.
It’s a city with major league sports, drawing students from rural areas and other North Carolina cities who want a shot of “big-city life.”
There are intern opportunities, and jobs after graduation.
“Many kids even in the Raleigh-Durham area are beginning to look at UNC Charlotte as a wonderful opportunity to stay in-state and get a big-city experience,” McEntire said. “We tell them, ‘When you choose UNC Charlotte, you’re choosing Charlotte for a lifetime.’
“Many of our graduates stay in Charlotte to launch their careers.”