There are more freshmen on campus this year than ever before.
Penny Elkins, senior vice president for Enrollment Management at Mercer University said that Mercer broke a record last year with 645 freshmen enrolled for classes.
This year, Mercer broke the record again by 10 percent, with 732 freshmen. The last two years have seen a 31 percent increase in freshmen enrollment.
“There’s a tremendous increase in demand for what we’re doing here at Mercer,” said Elkins.
Other aspects of the admissions process have seen increases as well.
Elkins said application numbers have gone up 7 percent, and the number of students admitted to Mercer went up 21 percent.
“The (application) pool definitely went up, which is great,” said Elkins. “But the admitted students went up even more. So that means not only are we increasing applications but we’re getting those students who qualify for Mercer.”
People might think that football is one of the main reasons that more freshmen are coming to Mercer, but Elkins said that football is just one of many reasons why the university is becoming more attractive to prospective students.
Elkins said that a lot of improvements and additions are happening at Mercer right now, and together, those improvements have brought more students to campus.
Academics is one of the reasons more students are enrolling at Mercer.
“We’ve got a continued increase in the quality of our academic experience and the development of new programs,” said Elkins.
Lake Lambert, dean of Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts said Mercer has added several new majors this year that are attractive to students. Mercer’s existing academic programs are attractive to new students as well, said Lambert.
One program Elkins cited as having grown since last year is the Center for Collaborative Journalism, which according to Elkins grew by 40 percent from last year to this year.
“Programs like CCJ and our increased emphasis as an institution on the science programs and health sciences programs” are all factors that have lead to an increase in students at Mercer, said Elkins.
Elkins said Mercer’s health sciences graduate programs are an enticing reason for students to get their undergraduate degree at Mercer.
Both Elkins and Lambert said campus beautification is another reason for increased enrollment at Mercer.
Cruz Plaza, the Lofts at Mercer Village, the Emily Parker Myers Admissions and Welcome Center, and the Moye Football and Lacrosse Complex are some of the infrastructure improvements that Elkins said have brought more students to Mercer.
Football has increased enrollment at Mercer, but not all on its own. Elkins said athletics overall have helped attract more students to the school.
Elkins said 17 percent of this year’s freshman class came to Mercer to participate in athletics for 18 different sports.
“So, very few of them this year were football players,” she said.
Last year though, the football team brought in about 100 new freshmen, said Head Coach Bobby Lamb.
“When you start football at a school, one of the things at the top of the list is to increase student enrollment,” Lamb said.
The increase doesn’t just come from football players, though.
Elkins said that, especially in the South, football creates a special energy and excitement on campus that draws students in, and Lamb said that football increases the visibility of a school in a way that academics cannot.
“What football does, is it gives you the ability to get your name out there in a different light,” said Lamb. “Football allows you to get on the front of the newspaper (and) on the six o’clock news.”
The fourth reason Elkins gave for the increase in student enrollment was the admissions team.
Elkins said admissions counselors and student workers are building relationships with prospective students and helping them through their admission and financial aid process.
“We want them to know in that admissions process that they’re important and we care about them,” said Elkins.
The admissions team at Mercer sends cards and makes phone calls to interested students, which is something that Elkins said makes a big difference in the number of students attracted to Mercer.
But the admissions team isn’t just the counselors and workers in the admissions building, said Elkins. Students and faculty also do their part to bring new students to Mercer.
“Every single person on campus is a recruiter,” said Elkins. Faculty, students and alumni who make an effort to welcome prospective students contribute to the success of the admission team’s recruitment efforts.
Elkins and Lambert said that this is an exciting time at Mercer, and that an increase in Freshmen enrollment is good for the university.
However, there are some challenges to overcome when it comes to more students on campus, which is why Elkins said that university administration decided to keep future freshmen enrollment numbers around 700-725.
“No one wants the undergraduate population to grow too big,” said Lambert. “We all value the things that a small college atmosphere offers to students: the closeness with professors, the opportunity for small classes and to be able to do undergraduate research and service learning.”
Because of the number of freshmen this year, Lambert said the university added more sections of certain introductory courses such as Great Books 101.
Housing was also a challenge at first, however Elkins said that those on the waitlist for housing who had not already decided to move off campus were placed in dorms on campus.
The third phase of the Lofts at Mercer Village will help diminish some of the challenges of a larger student population, said Elkins.
“Sometime in the future there’s no question that we’re going to have to look at additional dorm facilities to help with increased demand,” Elkins said.
But Elkins said the challenges the administration faced this year with such a large freshman class are good challenges to have.