BY COURTNEY WOODBURN
As Acting President Rick Hurley gets ready to step officially into the role of president, he faces a pressing question: How much should the University of Mary Washington expand student enrollment?
According to Hurley in an interview with the Bullet, the university is currently in a process to complete a master plan that looks at two models for student enrollment growth. The first model investigates the maximum use of academic buildings already on campus to provide room for 400 to 450 new students without being overcrowded, according to Hurley.
The second model investigates what new buildings would be needed for a 1,000-student increase.
According to the College Board, there are 4,258 degree-seeking undergraduates and 983 graduate students enrolled at the university.
The Board of Visitors is looking into growing beyond the 4,000, Hurley said.
“We have had a self-imposed unofficial cap at 4,000 for this campus,” Hurley said. “We ought to think about adding a few more students, as long as that doesn’t destroy the character of the institution. Next year I will probably ask them to make a decision that we can move up to, let’s just arbitrarily say, 4,500 [undergraduate] students over the next five years.”
An increase in student population would demand more professors.
“As the number of students increase, the number of faculty would most certainly increase,” Doug Searcy, vice president of student life, said. “Part of our core values at UMW are small class sizes and close student-teacher relationships.”
“We want to maintain the ‘small school feel,’ ” Lawrence Webb, assistant dean of admissions, said. “We pride ourselves on small class sizes and a high level of interaction between professors and students.”
“It’s a complex issue, because once you say you’re going to increase enrollment, then what is it you’re going to do to make your institution special so that more students want to apply?” Hurley said.
In response, the University is planning changes to academic programs and campus facilities. Due to lower-than-expected numbers of students signing up for campus housing contracts for the upcoming school year, plans for the fall include closing Mason and Randolph Residence Halls for renovation. This will be made possible by the addition of Eagle Village, which provides housing for about 400 additional students.
According to the school Web site, the University has spent $115 million constructing Phase One of Eagle Village.
As well as a proposed increase in students, Hurley would like to see renovation of campus dining facilities and the Woodard Campus Center. Seacobeck is going to be too small for a growing population on campus, Hurley said.
While there may be wide-scale growth in the works, university administrators are firm in their desire to maintain high academic standards.
“We have no intention of compromising academics to increase numbers,” Martin Wilder, dean of enrollment, said.
This year the school received around 4,500 applications for 950 spots in the freshmen class, Hurley said.
“All 4,500 students don’t have high GPAs and SATs and extracurriculars,” Hurley said.
The main challenges to maintaining admission standards, according to Hurley, are a currently decreasing number of high school graduates and intense competition among Virginia schools for out-of-state students, since they must pay higher tuition.
“I think we’ve got to figure out what can we add that really would make us distinctive,” Hurley said. “We have a great reputation for having a real strong academic liberal arts program. I don’t think that’s enough in and of itself to carry us. What is it we can put in our boutique, our array of programs, [to] make people want to come
While the plans for these changes are still in the making, Hurley declined to comment on the details.
“You’ll have to come back in August and hear my speech,” he said.
— Casey Snyder, Nate Winston and Hyerim Yang contributed to this report.