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Many Lynchburg-area colleges on track to see increased fall enrollment
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Many Lynchburg-area colleges on track to see increased fall enrollment

As Lynchburg-area colleges and universities plan for a return to normal after an atypical 2020-21 academic year, many are on track to see increased enrollment heading into the fall semester.

Liberty University spokesperson Scott Lamb, said as of this week, the university is on track to have as many as 500 more incoming residential students than last year — including both new and transfer students. For the fall 2020 semester, residential enrollment at the university was around 15,000 students.

“With less than three months remaining until the Fall 2021 semester begins, and based on the numbers that our enrollment team is seeing, Liberty University projects that our residential incoming class could be the largest in our school’s history,” Lamb said in statement to The News & Advance this week.

Meredith Woo, president of Sweet Briar College, said the college is seeing a steep increase in the number of students who already have made their deposit to hold their spot for the fall semester.

For fall 2020, deposits were about 130 at this time, she said. For the upcoming semester, that number currently is 206 — the largest the college has seen in about a decade, Woo said.

Woo said the college predicted this increase.

“We knew that we were going to have a very good year,” Woo said.

Woo said the COVID-19 pandemic only reinforced Sweet Briar’s claim it offers education in a safe, healthy environment. The college’s small student body and large campus size allowed it to easily enforce social distancing and health mitigation measures without sacrificing in-person learning and on-campus student experience.

Early enrollment decisions and deposits for fall 2021 began piling in as early as last fall, Woo said. The college’s spring 2021 enrollment was about 360, Woo said, and the college currently predicts a fall 2021 enrollment of more than 455. Before previous college leadership unsuccessfully attempted to close the school in 2015, enrollment was closer to 600, and Woo said the college is working to rebuild its enrollment.

Travis Carter, dean of admission for Randolph College, said the college’s enrollment is on pace to surpass last year’s first-year class. Carter said the college is exactly where it was last year with 139 first-years, and is receiving more deposits daily.

“This is a major achievement considering that the pandemic prevented our admission counselors from making the in-person visits to high schools that we usually make,” Carter said in an email this week. “We have had to be creative in our work, hosting virtual open houses and visits and even devising a unique drive-through open house that let prospective families see and learn about our campus in a safe, socially distant way.”

Carter said the college is seeing the effect of COVID-19 on its enrollment process, as many students are delaying their enrollment decisions as long as possible. Carter added the college also noticed an increase in the number of late application submissions.

Carter said the college’s small class sizes and a new curriculum model are attracting students to Randolph.

As of this week, Central Virginia Community College is seeing an increase of 21% in enrollment for the summer — from a full-time enrollment of 448 this time last year to 543 this year — and an increase of 6% for the fall semester — from 418 this time last year to 443 this year.

Christopher Bryant, vice president of institutional advancement at CVCC, said the college feels optimistic about its enrollment numbers.

“We are in a unique spot to offer a wide variety of options for new graduates and working adults alike. We are poised to offer a quality education for those students who wish to advance on an advanced educational pathway and we are equally positioned to provide training to those who want short term credentialing to get a job or a better career,” Bryant said in an email.

In fall 2020, CVCC’s enrollment dropped by 11%. Kris Ogden, interim vice president of academic and student affairs for CVCC, said the college learned many of its students faced non-academic barriers during the pandemic that prevented them from enrolling at the college.

After mostly offering online classes during the 2020-21 academic year, with some in-person lab classes, CVCC is planning to offer a variety of in-person, online and hybrid classes in the summer and fall.

Michael Jones, vice president for communications at the University of Lynchburg, said it is too early to offer specific enrollment numbers for the fall semester, but the university is expecting enrollment to be slightly down in undergraduate programs for the fall. The university, he said, expects enrollment to hold steady or slightly rise in graduate programs for the fall.

Still, Jones said, the university is “cautiously optimistic.”

Jones said this past year has provided a number of challenges to the college search process, which could be why the university is on track to see lower undergraduate enrollment.

“Remote high school did not allow students to have the support they might normally have received and the visit process that is so critical to their selection was almost non-existent,” Jones said in an email.

Jones said the university now has reopened completely to visitors and is seeing a significant increase in campus visits.

The university is planning a full return to in-person learning for the fall, he said — news that families and students who may be delaying their decisions until fall plans are finalized have responded favorably to.

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Education reporter

Cross covers K-12 and higher education for The News & Advance. An Asheboro, North Carolina native, Cross joined The News & Advance team in January 2020 after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism.

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