As college students head to campuses, freshman classes break records

Colleges in the region saw increased interest from across the country and globe this year, setting r
University at Albany incoming freshmen with a orientation guide on Tuesday August 30, 2016.
University at Albany incoming freshmen with a orientation guide on Tuesday August 30, 2016.

Beginning today, Union’s freshman class of 563 new students will gradually trickle onto campus, kicking off their college lives with orientations, welcome events and countless introductions.

The first batch of arrivals will be international students – about 10 percent of the class – and around 200 students participating in one of three pre-orientation programs intended to ease the transition to college and emphasize particular interests.

Around 15 Union upperclassmen Tuesday spent the day training as mentors for a new pre-orientation program focused on building leadership skills in incoming freshmen. Gathered at Old Chapel, the students practiced ice-breaker activities and the best ways to engage the freshmen in group discussions.

“The transition to college is one of the most difficult transitions people make in their life,” said Matt Milless, Union’s assistant dean of students for student activities. “This gives an opportunity to students who want a more intimate transition to college.”

The leadership program, in its first year, aims to show freshmen that they shouldn’t be afraid to take leadership opportunities on campus, relying on a diverse group of campus leaders from different organizations to guide the new students.

Other pre-orientation programs are focused on community service and outdoor activities. Around 30 upperclassmen will serve as mentors in the programs and another 50 student work as orientation advisers for the entire freshman class.

Some of those students recalled their own nervousness as freshmen and said they wanted to show new students what opportunities they would have to make lives at Union.

“They’re going into a whole new environment,” Union senior Tru Edwards said. “In life, you have so many doors you can go through; it’s about connecting with different people. As a freshman, you can meet so many different people from different backgrounds.”

The entire Union freshman class, which will move into their dorms Sunday, was picked from the college’s largest applicant pool in history – over 6,600 applicants. The students come from 29 states and 23 countries and at nearly 30 percent international or from underrepresented background, the class is one of Union’s most diverse ever.

“Union prides itself on small classes, personal relationships with professors, all those things that are tied to size,” said Matthew Malatesta, Union vice president for admissions, financial aid and enrollment. “It’s not a desire to grow in large ways.”

With the large applicant pool, school officials have to balance acceptances with the reality that not all students accepted will end up at Union. While the school’s yield rate – the percentage of accepted students that actually enroll – dropped slightly, Malatesta said, Union’s incoming freshman enrollment is about average in recent years.

Just as Union had its largest applicant pool in its history, other colleges in the region saw increased interest from across the country and globe this year, setting records for the number of applicants. While high school students applying to a dozen colleges or more likely account for some of the increases in applications, the large applicant pools have also translated into more selective acceptance rates and largest-in-history freshman classes.

This weekend, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute welcomed more than 1,700 freshmen from 47 states and countries around the world – the largest class in the school’s history. The College of Saint Rose’s incoming class of 658 students tops the 2010 mark for the school’s largest class ever. The record comes as Saint Rose officials have pushed to increase application and enrollment figures amidst controversial deficit-cutting plans that have eliminated programs and professor positions.

The increasing enrollment numbers mirror nationwide trends as enrollment in postsecondary institutions increased 31 percent from 13.2 million in 2000 to 17.3 million in 2014 and is expected to approach nearly 20 million students by 2025, according to the national Digest of Education Statistics.

University at Albany, drawing from its own record applicant pool of nearly 24,000, this week welcomed 2,670 freshmen from 26 states and 17 countries. Another 1,300 new graduate and 1,100 transfer students joined the campus’s ranks as well.

But for Union and Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, this year’s freshman classes set milestones as the schools’ most competitive and diverse freshman cohorts. Union accepted 37 percent of its applicants, matching a previous low, and Skidmore accepted just 29 percent of its 9,200 applicants. Since nearly half of the incoming Skidmore freshmen applied early-decision to the college – which binds them to the school if accepted – a smaller number of available spots tightened the overall acceptance rate.

The Skidmore class includes 11 percent international students and nearly a quarter domestic students of color – the most diverse cohort in its history. Mary Lou Bates, Skidmore vice president and dean of admissions, said the school strives to make all of its incoming classes more diverse and competitive than the ones that came before it.

“The goal of a liberal arts college is to bring in a class that brings in students from diverse backgrounds with diverse perspectives that creates a rich and robust learning environment,” Bates said. “We are working to create an increasingly diverse and inclusive community here.”

Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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