Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier senior staff writer

The 2021 fall semester will begin with an incoming freshman class of 735 students, the largest in Berry College’s history.

Glenn Getchell, director of admissions, explained that there were likely a number of factors that helped to contribute to the large incoming class. One of these was that, out of students who applied, more agreed to go to Berry once admitted than is seen in a usual year. 

“We admitted more students, thinking that we’d see the same, maybe a little less, of the total number that would come to Berry and, a larger percentage of students decided to come to Berry than we typically see,” Getchell said.

Getchell added that marketing changes in the last few years also contributed to making students more aware of Berry earlier in their college search process.

“We meet you as a junior, we’re trying to talk, we’re trying to get engaged with you, we’re trying to get you connected sooner than [the] fall of your senior year,” Getchell said. 

Getchell also believes that the admissions department’s message towards high school students has changed in such a way to make Berry a more attractive pick.

“We’ve been changing [and working] really hard at [our] marketing strategy, so we’ve built a brand name to work on, a common language,” Getchell said. “We’ve talked through the value of a Berry education maybe a little differently than we have in the past.”

Getchell explained that, if the following spring finds similar numbers of students applying to Berry, the admissions department will have to think of new ways to prevent some of the present challenges caused by a larger class size. 

One of these potential changes is being more selective for certain majors, in order to make sure that their departments are not overburdened with students.

“We want to make sure that every group, every major, has the right number students for it to be the most effective,” Getchell said. “You can’t just broadly say ‘well, everybody’s a good student, no matter what they [major in]’, you know, you have to look at the data and say ‘well, it may be more challenging to get into some majors because they’re in high demand.”

Provost Mary Boyd explained that, in order to meet the current increased demand for classes, a number of new faculty were hired in many departments. Additionally, new sections were added for certain classes. She added that this was to ensure that incoming students still experienced small class sizes and mentoring relationships with professors.

“We looked at what we needed to do in order to maintain the type of Berry education that students want to receive, they expect to receive, when they choose to come to Berry, and so [it] required a lot of people involved and a lot of problem-solving.”

However, not all classes were protected from increased class sizes, including BCC classes. 

Senior Noah Isherwood, associate student director at Academic Transitions (AT) and a BCC mentor, explained that, in order to meet the large incoming class, more faculty were added as mentors and more student mentors were hired. Additionally, BCC classes are now larger than they have been.

“Generally, in the past, BCC classes have been 12 to 15 people, maybe up to 18, but now we have several sections that are 24 or 25 [students],” Isherwood said. 

For Isherwood, the large number of freshmen has resulted in a mental shift at AT in order to provide quality service to new students.

“We have to think operationally in such a bigger number of people and being able to receive those people in our offices, at the Academic Success Center, [and] being able to serve them all adequately,” Isherwood said.

Residence Life has also encountered challenges in addressing the large incoming class, namely in providing enough residences for students. To help provide more housing, Berry bought and renovated a motel, now called the Oak Hill Residences. The residences count as on-campus living. They are located next to the Oak Hill Museum and are only for upperclassmen. Lindsay Norman, associate dean of students, explained that this freed up more space on Berry’s main campus for the freshmen and other students.

The Oak Hill Residences opened yesterday, Wednesday, Aug. 18.

Additionally, last spring, it was announced that a limited number of seniors were allowed to live off campus. 

During the summer, two faculty/staff housing cottages, Cedarwood and Edgewood, were also changed to student housing to provide residence space which are located near West Poland cottage.

Another change made in order to accommodate the new class was that RAs are now required to have roommates. In previous years, they have been allowed to have a room to themselves due to being an RA.

Norman also explained that RAs themselves may need to make a mental shift 

for the incoming class, as residences such as Dana and Ford go from being a mix of upper and lowerclassmen to almost exclusively freshmen.

“An adjustment we’ve been talking about this week at RA training, is reminding folks, to really consider the needs of the [students],” Norman said. “You may have been picturing programs that may apply to upperclassmen but now you really need to think about what you’re going to do during Viking Venture and how you’re supporting first-year students.”

While some RAs have been lost due to the changes, Norman believes the lack of returning RAs was due more to the COVID-19 pandemic rather than policy adaptations regarding the incoming class. Many programs, guidelines and policies changed during the last year due to COVID-19, which Norman believes made the job less enjoyable.

“Those things were good, we were trying to respond to COVID, so I totally agree with the college [that] we needed to be making changes, but I think it made the job less fun, because [RAs] spent so much time enforcing and policing – and that’s part of the RA job, but part of the RA job is [also] building relationships and [they] just had a hard time doing that.” 

Isherwood believes that the challenges and opportunities seen with the new freshmen class are not one-time events. He explains that the AT has been developing new ideas and practices as part of a more general change at Berry. One such development was the expansion of the AT’s student leadership to include three associate student directors.

“We effectively doubled the size of our student leadership team before we even knew that this giant class size was coming,” Isherwood said. “So, it’s sort of this idea of, at least in our department, expanding our reach, expanding our over-arching sort of mission, in order to better serve students we have, but also, practically, to better serve many more students.”

Isherwood adds that the large class helps to highlight the precious time and resources that are needed to provide meaningful experiences for incoming students.

“It’s very exciting because it, makes us think more intentionally about how we serve students, because our time is at a higher premium,” Isherwood said. “I think it’s a really good opportunity for us to offer better services to first-year students because we have to be more careful and more cognizant of the time and resources we spend, because they can very easily be spread too thin.”

Posted by Campus Carrier

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