Florida universities seeing increased fall enrollment

By Andrew Atterbury
TALLAHASSEE — Some Florida universities are reporting larger freshman classes in 2020 despite a pandemic and financial uncertainty that was expected to put a dent in enrollment among new college students.
At least half the schools in Florida’s State University System saw an uptick in freshman enrollment compared to last year while the other campuses experienced declines, according to data provided to POLITICO. In certain cases, overall enrollment increased despite smaller freshman classes. The universities that responded to POLITICO also reported fewer students living in campus housing across the board this semester.
The numbers: Florida Atlantic University reported the largest jump in freshman enrollment — an increase of nearly 1,000 students. The university, which has campuses in Boca Raton and Jupiter, enrolled 4,292 freshman students compared to 3,323 last fall, officials told POLITICO.
At the University of Central Florida, freshman enrollment rose by nearly 600 students, from 3,882 students in 2019 to 4,469 students now. Overall enrollment at UCF, Florida’s largest school, is projected eclipse last year’s mark of 69,500 students, according to school officials
UCF focused on recruiting local students from the Orlando area among its strategies to bolster enrollment amid the pandemic, Gordon Chavis, associate vice president of enrollment services, told POLITICO.
The university sent more personalized communications to potential students, attempting to quell anxiety about the fall semester, Chavis said. Families made it clear they wanted to be engaged and know what to expect from UCF, and the school responded with messaging from its top leaders, he said.
“We started following research and data that suggested we needed to do things differently,” Chavis said.
University of West Florida enrolled 1,410 first-time-in-college students this fall, an increase of nearly 200 students from one year ago, school officials said.
At the University of North Florida, freshman enrollment rose by nearly 100 students — from 2,641 students to 2,738 students.
Florida Polytechnic University welcomed a class of nearly 500 new students this fall, about 80 students more than in in 2019, officials said. Total enrollment is projected at 1,400 students compared to 1,330 students who enrolled last year.
New College of Florida reported that 159 freshmen enrolled for fall 2020, 12 more than last year.
The University of South Florida reported the summer and fall entering freshman cohort combined is 5,848 students, or 4.6 percent larger than last year. USF this fall enrolled 50,830 students overall, down by 97 or 0.2 percent from last year, according to school officials.
Florida Gulf Coast University reported having 2,606 freshmen in 2020, marking a drop of about 7 percent from last year. But FGCU’s overall enrollment is projected to increase by 3 percent — from 15,024 students to 15,446 — and new transfers are up 15 percent, according to school officials.
Florida State University is expecting to have about 6,000 freshmen this year, down from a class of 7,100 in 2019. FSU officials noted that last year’s class was “larger than expected.”
Freshman enrollment at Florida International University was reported at 3,781 students, down about 267 students.
Staying elsewhere: With Covid-19 still in the forefront around Florida, many college classes shifted to online this fall. As a result, there are fewer students in dorms across the state, which is likely to eat away at school budgets. Some dorms are closed in the name of social distancing and others are being used as quarantine halls.
At UCF, for example, more than 75 percent of courses are being taught online. So, while the busiest times last year would have seen 18,500 students in classrooms, that mark will be 2,950 students this fall, according to UCF officials.
UCF reported 4,244 freshmen are staying in dorms this semester compared to 5,159 students in 2019.
Overall dorm occupancy at FSU is currently at 4,600 students, down about 2,000 from the normal capacity of 6,700 students, officials said.
FIU in Miami, still Florida’s hottest Covid-19 spot, reported 568 fewer freshmen were living on campus this fall
FAU has 1,783 freshmen living in dorms, a decline of 346 students compared to 2019.
UNF reported 718 fewer freshmen are staying in dorms this fall, down from 1,655 students last year.