State campuses struggle with enrollment surge
Tanya Schevitz, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, August 14, 2006
UC Davis and some other California universities have admitted more freshmen than they have room for and now are scrambling to find extra bed space, hire more instructors, and expand student academic and health services.
In some cases, for example, it will mean shoehorning a third student into a dorm room meant for two.
The minicrisis, from Davis to San Diego, stems from a surge in the number of students who accepted offers of admission, in some cases wildly exceeding the universities' predictions. UC Davis overshot its target by 745 students in a class of 5,838 students.
It will have to spend $1 million to add just over 100 extra classes and another $350,000 for additional beds, mattresses, dressers, desks, lamps and chairs. Much of it will come from student fees and state funding.
"It was a surprise, but overall we've tried to make sure we are going to deliver the same program we promised," said John Meyer, vice chancellor for resource management and planning at UC Davis. "It did take the efforts of many, many people to ensure the students have a good experience."
In the University of California system, UC San Diego is about 350 freshmen over its target and UC Irvine is about 400 over. In the CSU system, most campuses are still enrolling students, but at least one, San Diego State University, has several hundred more students than officials counted on. And in the Bay Area, the private Santa Clara University is also embracing about 150 more students than officials planned on.
It's a miscalculation not unique to California. Colleges from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire and Rhode Island also found their campuses to be more popular than they expected and are now scurrying to add dorm rooms, hire new faculty to teach extra classes, and expand hours and space for students services like academic counseling, and psychiatric and health services.
University officials say a big part of the problem is that they can no longer rely on historical trends for enrolling students because the whole process has been turned on its head by online application services.
Fueled by an increasing competition and the ease of applying over the Internet, students are applying to more and more colleges.
In 2005, a freshman study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA found that 26.1 percent of students applied to six or more schools, up from 17.7 percent in 1995 and just 11.8 percent in 1985.
Nearly 1 in 10 students send applications to between eight and 11 schools. Some apply to more than two dozen, leaving college admissions officers scratching their heads about who will come if they are admitted.
To complicate things, even when students say they will attend a school, they don't always mean it, officials said. Some colleges have seen an increase in the number of students who put down deposits -- often hundreds of dollars -- at multiple colleges and wait until the last minute before making a final choice.
"We start each year trying to predict the decision making of 9,000 18-year-olds and their parents," said Mark Rubinstein, vice president for student and academic affairs at the University of New Hampshire, which got almost 400 more students than it planned for. "And if you've ever tried to predict the behavior of even one teenager, you know how difficult it can be."
Everything from a good year by a football team to a shuffling of national rankings can tip the enrollment scales at a school after acceptances have been sent, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.
"Ten years ago, (enrollment management) was one of the more mundane activities in the admissions office. Over the years, it has become a little more stressful," he said.
Last year, UC Davis came up short, enrolling about 350 fewer students than it wanted. So it began a statewide marketing campaign, sending its chancellor and other administrators on the road to recruit students. It also campaigned harder for potential students to visit the campus. It then extended more offers of admissions. It got back a bumper crop of acceptances.
UC Davis officials said they are doing everything they can to integrate the extra 745 students smoothly. They established a "strike team" that met weekly to ensure the campus was staying on top of the problem.
Among other things, the campus is converting standard double rooms into triples and turning common areas into student housing. It has set up plans to extend drop-in hours into the evening in the learning skills center, to add more group study review sessions, to expand the undergraduate advising centers in the dorms, and to add staff in the counseling and psychological services.
Campus administrators also decided to rely more on an "e-nurse" service, which allows nurses to diagnose ailments and make appointments online.
It all makes incoming freshman Amy Balmain, 18, of Colfax (Placer County), who came from a high school of just 1,000 students, a little nervous.
Although she is excited to meet a lot of new people, she was frustrated recently when she was trying to get the classes she wanted during a registration session at Davis.
"It does weigh on my mind," said Balmain, who is a clinical nutrition major but is thinking of switching to history. "It is difficult just because there are so few slots, so you get whatever is open."
What makes her even more nervous is the housing lottery. UC Davis' housing office will soon tell students whether they will be among the 1,250 students sharing a triple room or living in a converted common area.
"I kind of just want one roommate ... being three or four of us crammed into a room might get complicated," she said. "Having two or even three roommates might be a lot to handle."
The ripple effect will be felt throughout the next several years as the bulge of students makes its way through college. That means the schools have to plan for new housing and classes not just this year but for the next several years.
At UC Davis, the campus is already renovating some facilities to ensure that there are enough laboratories in coming years.
"One of our big objectives on campus now is 'Out in four,' assuring our students and families that this is the class of 2010, and we wanted to make sure this did not cause any blocks," Meyer said.
For some schools, like Santa Clara University, which have sought to increase their enrollment in recent years, an extra 150 students over the projection of 1,200 was a welcome affirmation of their efforts to raise the profile of the campus. But it was a surprise.
"I think everybody was pleased because we were working toward that," said Sandra Hayes, associate vice provost for enrollment management and dean of admission at Santa Clara. "But we didn't expect that kind of bump in one year."
E-mail Tanya Schevitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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