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Area colleges scramble to find room for glut of incoming students

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 6:33 PM EDT
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MIDDLEBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont’s handling of the pandemic may be bringing more college students to the Green Mountains. Faced with booming enrollments for the fall, some colleges are getting creative to make sure everyone has a place to stay.

Middlebury College typically has just over 2,500 undergraduate students, but this fall the school expects more than 2,800. The school’s David Provost says that while this year’s acceptance rate was decreased, more people applied than usual, resulting in an increase of about 50 first-year students. “We’ve added about 140 to 150 beds over the last 12 months, but that’s not enough,” he said.

Middlebury is also seeing many students who took a gap semester or year off, return to campus. And the delta variant is keeping some students on campus who were supposed to study abroad this year, so the school is adding rooms to administration buildings and opening their nearby Bread Loaf campus in Ripton to juniors and seniors. “Right now, our hope is not to place anyone there that does not desire to be there,” Provost said.

Middlebury College is looking to house some juniors and seniors at its Bread Loaf Campus in...
Middlebury College is looking to house some juniors and seniors at its Bread Loaf Campus in Ripton.(WCAX)

And Middlebury is not the only school enjoying an increase in popularity. There’s an 8% increase in enrollment at Northern Vermont University, a 12% increase at Vermont Tech, and 15% at Community College of Vermont.

The University of Vermont is expecting to hit a decade-old enrollment record of first-year students, beating the previous one of 2,600.

Dartmouth officials have also been seeing a boom in applications. The school offered 200 students $5,000 to live off-campus as part of a lottery earlier this summer.

Across the lake, SUNY Plattsburgh’s enrollment is up slightly, with about 100 more new students committing to the school than last year.

Champlain College is also expecting an increase, thanks to a lot of transfer students. “Students come here and they look at a bunch of different schools. I’m cautiously optimistic that the momentum will continue,” said the school’s Robin Gronlund.

At Middlebury, officials say foot traffic of prospective students visiting the campus is also up. Abbey Kelly, a rising high school junior from North Carolina, was exploring the campus with her family Thursday. “It’s just a gorgeous area and they’ve handled the pandemic really well, and it sounds like it’s a very liberal area, which is something I definitely value,” Kelly said.

Provost adds Vermont is seen as a safe place to live right now. “I think our stock is high right now with prospective college students,” he said.

Not all schools are seeing an increase. Norwich University says their enrollment is about the same as the past three years. Saint Michael’s College saw an increase in admitted students but anticipates a 10 to 15% smaller class than last year. And Castleton University is the only VSCS school to be down in enrollment -- by 7%.

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