Frosh enrolment growth continues

First-year students arriving in Waterloo in September will once again be surrounded by a greater number of peers than in previous years. Over two hundred more students will attend the Waterloo campus this fall compared to September 2009, for a total of 3,842 new first-year Laurier attendees.

More than doubling in size in the past decade, Wilfrid Laurier University has dealt with increased first-year enrolment on a yearly basis, with growth surpassing predictions in many cases. This year, 257 more students than were expected by the registrar’s office will enter first year at Laurier.

“Is it a big surprise?” president Max Blouw responded to the situation. “There’s no question that Laurier remains attractive to students from across the province, and that’s a good thing.”

The process of applications, offers of admission and student choice of whether to accept a university’s offer creates a great deal of uncertainty in predicting how many students will begin university at WLU each fall.

“It’s always a difficult thing to predict, the behaviour of seventeen-year-olds,” Jim Butler, VP of finance.

This year, there were nearly 20,000 applications submitted to Laurier with over 70 per cent of applicants receiving offers of admission. Slightly more than one in four students who received offers chose to attend Laurier.

When enrolment has surpassed expectations in the past, the foremost concerns have been residence spaces and increased class sizes. From a residence standpoint, the university is coping well with the incoming first-years.

“We’re stretching a little bit to accommodate them in different ways … but at this point we’ll be ok,” said director of residence services Mike Belanger. “It’s a little hard to tell looking beyond this year though.”

Lease arrangements are in place, allowing residence services to house students in buildings surrounding campus. A new building provides 120 spaces at Lodge and King streets and joins other leased apartments at 325 Spruce and 345 King.

In 2008, when faced with what is still the largest group of freshmen in Laurier history and over four hundred more students than projected, residence services placed students in bunk beds and housed two students together in single rooms.

“We don’t have to go anywhere quite that extreme, “ Belanger explained.

Larger rooms that would normally only accommodate one student will be occupied by two and some living rooms in the Laurier Place residences will be converted to bedrooms to compensate for extra residents.

With more students comes a focus on the class sizes, especially large first-year lectures. “In terms of classrooms, we’re thinking we’ll be okay,” registrar Ray Darling said.

“Business was an area of concern but they’ll add on some sections if need be.”

While business programs will see less than fifty extra first-years in September, the sciences, psychology specifically will experience more substantial growth.

“Last year we had 1,850 seats available in psych 100,” department chair Rudy Eikelboom pointed out, “we’ll have 2,250 available this fall.” There has been strain on instructors as the methods they are able to use to evaluate larger groups of students are limited. “We have a lot less writing than we’d like in those first two years,” Eikelboom said.

“With faculty, we’ve been able to meet demands placed on us,” he continued, “but I think we’re exacting a cost from our faculty.”

He also explained that no new faculty have been hired in the department to correspond with growth, and that upper-year classes have been limited based on not being able to physically fit more students in lecture halls.

“We’re not pleased with it, it’s not something we’re happy with, but it’s where we are,” said Eikelboom.

Increased demand in the sciences is not surprising according to Blouw.

“It seems to me what it reflects is that incoming students are keenly aware of where employment prospects are most likely to be,” he said.

Darling explained that growth is by no means uniform in different disciplines. “Conversely, the humanities aren’t doing well at universities.”

He pointed to program cuts in arts at the University of Guelph despite the popularity of that university’s science programs and at other universities across the province. “I think you can get into almost any arts program in Ontario today with a 75 per cent average.”

While first-year entrance into the faculty of arts at Laurier did increase this year by about 75 students, problems could arise if less demand for arts programs drives admission requirements lower, a correlation that Darling confirmed.

Admitting students with progressively lower high school grades has negative connotations, he said, as students may struggle to cope with university-level work and not progress through programs.

“The higher the cutoff the better in terms of student success.” Despite this potential problem, he denied that degree devaluation could be an issue, as professors typically do not decrease academic requirements, and as a result less incoming students may complete their degrees.

“Our retention rates are pretty solid, but we could run into problems if that cutoff drops any lower.”

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