Despite a pandemic that has forced college classes online nationwide, enrollment has slightly increased at UNC — a stark contrast from universities across the country.
Some students and staff have said this growth is due to the spirit of UNC students, the implementation of certain new policies and a strong work ethic by University staff.
Interim Vice Provost of Enrollment Rachelle Feldman said that enrollment this spring “is pretty much exactly the same as last spring.”
She said that the University’s enrollment has grown 1.2 percent since the beginning of the pandemic in spring 2020. Although the actual number of undergraduate students enrolled at UNC has fallen slightly, Feldman said there are more students taking a greater number of credit hours. The number of graduate and professional students has also continuously grown.
Ronik Grewal, a first-year information science major, said he knew that the on-campus experience was not going to be a completely normal one — there was a likelihood that he would not fully be plugged into campus socially or through extracurriculars. But he still wanted to experience the culture and decided to live on campus for both the fall and spring semesters.
Feldman said that the decision to continue online learning by many students is a testament to their strength.
“It really says something about our students that they were willing to stick with it and still wanted to study and finish the term," Feldman said.
Feldman credited the Office of Student Affairs for creating a variety of safe activities that would keep students involved and connected to UNC and their fellow students. These include virtual game nights hosted through the Carolina Covenant program and the Carolina Away virtual learning program created for first-year and transfer students.
While Feldman said these programs encouraged student involvement, some UNC students still decided against returning to campus during the pandemic. Some of these decisions stem from nationally high prices for university tuition and the spread of the COVID-19 virus on college campuses.
Rising junior Alex Evans decided to take a gap year in order to work and travel safely. She said she realized quickly during the spring 2020 semester that online learning was not for her. She opted to take the 2020-2021 school year off.
“Even if I am taking my classes online, I think there is more to the college experience than just the academic component, and I just didn’t think I would get the social or athletic aspect,” she said.
Evans said that her previous professors were welcoming and understanding with online learning.
She said that the creation of the Carolina Together Testing Program this semester is a great addition in order to keep students safe while also allowing a small return to normalcy.
“It seemed like some of my friends were able to lead COVID-safe, but potentially more normal lives because they had the peace of mind of being able to take COVID tests,” Evans said.
Grewal also said the University's new policies are a possible reason that the enrollment has remained steady.
“I trusted the new guidelines put in place mainly because those were working for other schools, so I was pretty confident that we wouldn’t get kicked off campus this time,” he said.
Compared to last semester, more students are living on campus. Eighty-five percent of classes are being delivered remotely this spring, compared to the 100 percent online instruction of the fall.
Feldman also said that UNC teaching staff's ability to be flexible with teaching online helped ease the transition in the fall and contribute to the successes of the spring.
Looking ahead to the 2021-2022 school year, Evans plans to reenroll at UNC, citing the importance of continuing her education despite the circumstances of the pandemic.
Grewal hopes that UNC will continue to keep the University’s COVID-19 task force and testing program intact even as vaccines are being distributed.
Feldman said she hopes that communication with scientific experts and careful following of guidelines from UNC Health and the CDC will encourage more students to feel comfortable coming back to campus and doing in-person learning and activities.
She said she empathizes with the desire of both students and faculty to return to normalcy on campus in the safest way possible.
“We all want to be here on campus and make sure seniors can climb the Bell Tower and people can go to sports and hang out on the quad when it’s sunny," Feldman said. "And, hopefully, we will be back there soon.”
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