UT colleges add seating, prepare for large freshman class

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(Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Brace yourselves — the freshmen are coming.

University officials have spent the summer months preparing for what might be its largest incoming freshman class on record and what could be the second largest overall enrollment in UT history. By adding more sections, lecturers, advisors and First-Year Interest Group programs, or programs that place freshmen into small groups to support their academic performance, University officials said they are confident that the school is ready for the freshmen class.

Kedra Ishop, vice provost and director of admissions, said estimates for the incoming freshman class are currently around 8,000 students. This is an approximate 900-student increase from last year’s 7,149 students. Currently, the year 2002 holds the title for most first-time enrolled freshmen with 7,935 students enrolled as first-time freshmen and 8,419 students classified as freshmen. The University will not know if it broke its past records until the twelfth class day, when enrollment is officially counted.

“It’s too close to call,” Ishop said in an email, speculating whether this entering freshman class would be the University’s largest. “Our largest prior class was just over 7,900. So it could be.”

Although the University says it is ready for this incoming freshman class, the increased enrollment will place a strain on the University for years to come. Professor William Cunningham, who was president of the University from 1985 to 1992, faced similar issues because of enrollment growth in 1988 when enrollment reached an all-time high. Cunningham compared the problem to a bubble.

“If you have a problem in freshman courses this year, then next year you will have a problem in sophomore courses,” Cunningham said. “So you will have to put some more resources into sophomore courses, but UT officials know that. It’s not rocket science.”

David Laude, senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management, said the University will have to add sections and redirect resources for years to come. This means for returning students and for all students going forward, officials will continue to add sections and lecturers to various colleges and schools as this freshman class moves through the University.

“The reason you don’t make decisions right now about where to put them is because students generally tend to migrate in lots of general directions,” Laude said.

Laude said he has been involved in conversations with the deans across all of the schools, particularly in the professional schools like business, engineering and communication, about the possibility of expanding.

“As that happens and as they take on those additional students, it will be required that we take the money we have available associated with the increased enrollment and create additional sections in the majors they end up populating,” Laude said.

Among the incoming freshmen, certain colleges and schools have been more heavily impacted. Marc Musick, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said he noticed the largest increases in the School of Undergraduate Studies, the College of Natural Sciences and the College of Fine Arts.

“I handled orientation for the University, so I can see the numbers we’re experiencing across all the colleges,” Musick said. He was appointed to oversee New Student Services and the large changes made in the orientation program by UT President William Powers Jr. in April.

The School of Undergraduate Studies faces more than a 50 percent increase in enrollment — from 900 students last year to approximately 1,400 this year. Initial numbers in the beginning of the summer indicated 1,574 students were planning on attending UGS in the fall, but since then almost 200 students have decided to not attend.

Incoming UGS interim dean Larry Abraham said when the school first heard about the number of incoming students, their initial concern was actually not about the number of classes offered but whether the school had enough advisors. Assistant UGS dean David Spight said the school has hired three new advisors, who will start the second week of August, a few weeks before students arrive.

Abraham said the school was also concerned about whether there would be enough seats in classes.

“There was a panic mode where students were saying there won’t be enough seats. We’ve never had this many students try to take freshman courses, whether they are signature courses or introduction to biology or whatever,” Abraham said. “The University has responded to that.”

In order to respond to both its increased enrollment and the entire school’s increased enrollment, UGS has added more than a total of 1,300 seats in signature courses to the 2012-2013 school year, bringing the total to 11,300. Signature courses, introduced in 2008, are each assigned a unique topic and aim to introduce the student to the University and its resources. The 1,300 additional seats includes the fall, spring and summer semesters. Patricia Micks, UGS senior program coordinator, said about 8,000 of those seats are the fall semester, when UGS hopes a majority of freshmen will take their signature course.

Micks said UGS did a combination of adding new signature courses and increasing the class size of some already-existing signature courses.

“We were very careful. If we’re going to bump any class sizes, we were sure to strategically select professors who really shine in these large classes,” Micks said.

UGS also increased the number of academic FIGs offered within the school from 15 to 24.

In order to pay for this, Abraham said the provost’s office gave UGS approximately $300,000.

Thanks to the funding provided by the Provost’s office, Abraham said UGS has dealt with advising and seating concerns. Spight said the school is now focusing to ensure students can make a smooth transition to their desired school after UGS.

“Our job is to help them find all the options and set them up for success, but in the end the student has to be successful in their courses and the programs have to be willing to say they will take those students,” Spight said. “That concern is going to be a little bit bigger for us this year simply because there are more students that we are worrying about.”

Spight said there has been increased collaboration between UGS and other colleges. For example, of the nine additional FIGs added to UGS, Spight said a few Natural-Sciences-oriented FIGS were added because a large number of students in UGS had selected the College of Natural Sciences as their first choice.

“We tried to make sure the FIGs that we added addressed those areas of interests,” Spight said. “The courses that were associated with those FIGs, whether it be the signature course topics or the other courses in the FIG clusters, we made sure they were along those lines in the sciences.”

In the College of Natural Sciences, freshman enrollment is expected to rise by about 15 percent. Last year, the college had about 1,835 students enroll, and this year it is expecting 2,152 students. Sacha Kopp, associate professor and natural sciences assistant dean, said the college has seen an increase in freshman enrollment in the past three years and this will be the largest class the college has ever seen.

The College of Natural Sciences has added sections and additional seats to prepare for this class, but Kopp said he could not say how many sections and seats were added since the college is still watching the enrollment numbers and is adjusting accordingly. Kopp said the college is not adding these classes just for students in that college.

And in the College of Fine Arts, which houses many of the courses required to fulfill the visual and performing arts undergraduate degree requirements, enrollment is expected to increase by 400 students, or 20 percent. The college has responded by adding several hundred seats to these courses to accommodate non-majors, said Andrew Dell-Antonio, College of Fine Arts associate dean.

Officials from other colleges are on board to prepare the University for this large incoming freshman class, even if their college is not seeing an enrollment increase. For example, Musick said COLA was adding additional sections.

“We serve students in other colleges as well,” Musick said. “Even though it’s not technically liberal arts students, they are UT students and they do need our classes.”

Senior associate dean for academic affairs Richard Flores said the University added 16 new sections in the College of Liberal Arts. The college is in the process of hiring a combination of nine additional lecturers and assistant instructors. The provost’s office provided the College of Liberal Arts with $306,000 in funding for this increase.

The first day of class is Aug. 29. The official enrollment count will be conducted Sept. 14.

Updated 11:24 a.m.: 1,300 seats, not 13,000 seats, were added to the number of signature courses.