By ANDREW PETTERSON
Whether students have lived in Fredericksburg for 10 months or 10 years, downtown, or down Route 17, their lives have undoubtedly been impacted by the unrelenting expansion of the commercial and residential areas of the city.
In a recent study conducted by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, estimates show that Fredericksburg’s population has increased by 16.2 percent since the 2010 census- the highest growth rate of any locality in the state, a title it has earned in three of the past four years.
To put this number into perspective, population growth in the United States as a whole during the same time period was only 0.7 percent. Fredericksburg is outpacing the national trend, growing 23 times faster than the average city, and showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. But what does this mean for UMW students?
According to UMW’s department of Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness in the same time period of the last four years, total enrollment at UMW has declined by 12.8 percent, from 5,203 students in 2010 to 4,535 in the current semester.
While this trend in enrollment may seem counterintuitive to the highly-positive overall population growth rate in Fredericksburg and the surrounding areas, the development of new and improved infrastructure and resources at UMW has been on par with the city’s rapidly expanding business climate.
On campus, these improvements are best exhibited by the creation of new, state-of-the art learning and student life centers, most notably the establishment of the Hurley Convergence Center in 2014, and the opening of the new University Center earlier this year. More behind-the- scenes improvements have also increased considerably over the last few years, providing a more accommodative system of technological and educational infrastructure which is capable of adapting to the growing and changing needs of the modern student body.
The restoration of the Woodard Campus Center, Mercer Hall, and the expansion of the Jepson Science center, slated for later next year, indicate a university-wide commitment to further development and growth.
However, as a UMW student, there is more to life than what is just taking place on campus. To better understand the institutional dynamics at large within the university, what is occurring in the private sector needs to be taken into account.
Newly opened bars and restaurants such as the Sedona Taphouse, Jay’s Downtown Sports bar and Lounge, Spencer and Devon Brewing, and late-night pizza place Benny Vitali’s are offering fresh social opportunities to the UMW student body and breathing new life into the culture of a town that, for many years, did not have a high number of social outlets for young people.
Senior math major Devin Geraghty, a lifelong resident of the Fredericksburg area, praised the new business development, saying “It’s bringing the college scene into downtown Fred” and connecting the town and university on a new level.
It is reasonable to expect, given UMW’s dedication to improving its infrastructure and the record-breaking size of this year’s freshman class, that the University anticipates enrollment to increase in the near future. The complementary, interrelated nature of growth, development and expansion within UMW and in Fredericksburg as a whole, bode well for the current and future social climate of the student population, making weekends a little more fun, and life a little bit sweeter.