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Record freshman class represents multi-year plan to expand enrollment

PLNU enrolled 650 first-time freshman students this fall — the largest in the school’s history — as part of a multi-year plan to expand enrollment and campus facilities.

An obstacle to this expansion was an enrollment cap that limited the number of students that could be enrolled on PLNU’s main campus, according to PLNU President Bob Brower. This problem was partially negated with the opening of off campus facilities like Liberty Station and courses offered via Community Classroom.

“Since we hit the enrollment cap back in 1999-2000, we have been seeking ways to provide more opportunities for students since our demand for enrollment exceeded what we could offer,” said Brower via email. “Those offerings began the process of making the undergraduate program less confined to only the main campus.”

By offering courses off PLNU’s main campus, additional cap space was created and allowed the admissions department to accept and enroll more students. The current record-size freshman class is more than 100 students larger than the approximately 500 freshmen admitted in the fall of 2012, said Brower.

A potential reason for this increased enrollment was the admission department’s intensive recruitment of more students into its applicant pool, as well active communication between counselors and applicants in order to encourage their enrollment at PLNU, said Shannon Hutchison, the associate director of Admissions.

These elevated application and enrollment numbers indicate a general trend of increasing competitiveness over the past five years, said Brent Goodman, director of Institutional Research at PLNU. Goodman said that if the number of applications dramatically increases but the number of admitted students fails to increase at the same rate, the competition for admission increases.

There were 1,807 applications in 2008, as compared to 3,543 applications in fall of 2012.

“We have gone from a 78 percent [admittance] rate in fall of 2008 to a 56 percent [admittance] rate in fall of 2012,” Goodman said via email. “It went down because of the bigger [application] pool and a relatively static number of selections.”

According to Hutchison, however, the current freshman class did not suffer from a significantly more selective acceptance rate this year compared to the fall of 2012.

“Our average [admissions] numbers have remained mostly the same. An admitted freshman had about a 3.75 GPA and about a 580 on each section of the SAT,” said Hutchison. “Our acceptance rate is very similar to last year’s incoming student acceptance rate — right around 50 percent.”

Though Hutchison expects to retain these elevated application and enrollment numbers over the next few years, she believes class sizes will not exceed that of the current freshman class.

“We’ll likely continue to bring in classes around this size or smaller,” Hutchison said. “We aren’t in the position to continually grow with each new class.”

However, the possibility of an extended period of increased acceptance rate raises questions regarding PLNU’s academic approach as it pertains to class sizes and student-to-faculty ratios — often considered some of the more attractive advantages of PLNU’s small size.

According to Goodman, rising enrollment necessitates that the administration actively seek a balance between the increasing number of students in each class and the employment of more faculty in order to maintain an attractive and effective student-to-faculty ratio.

Goodman said one potential plan would increase the average number of students in upper-division courses — which are often far from filled to capacity — while hiring new professors to teach additional sections of general education courses, which are often much more crowded.

The eventual goal of this increased enrollment, according to both Goodman and Brower, is to provide the maximum number of students with a high level of educational, spiritual and personal growth.

“The action to provide more opportunity for students to obtain an education at PLNU is something I see as a positive,” Brower said. “The design for growth is a part of the institutional future, but we also know this current undergraduate growth is not the only part of the long term development of PLNU as a 21st century university.”