Growing Gains: SMC Welcomes Largest Freshman Class in College History
by Lisa M. Ware
As students and families from across the state and region began arriving for the August 19 Move-In Day at SMC, they didn’t yet know they were making history as the largest freshman class to attend the college since its founding in 1911.
A total of 496 new freshman students, about 60 percent of whom now live on campus, carried boxes, bags, TVs, refrigerators and microwaves into rooms and suites. “We’re at total capacity in our residence halls,” said Teresa Ferguson, Dean of Students. “We spent a few days scrambling to figure out where to house more students if we needed to, but we had just enough space for everyone. It was a good problem to have.”
Having more students on campus has changed the atmosphere, says the Director of Student Activities and Leadership Development, whose Pioneer Peers student leadership team helped freshmen move in. “There’s an incredible amount of enthusiasm and excitement in this group that has lasted well into the semester,” she says. “I think being part of this largest class, and viewing the once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse together, has bonded them in a way that previous classes haven’t experienced.”
Kaleb Jackson, a sophomore student from Greenville, South Carolina, who assists with student activities as a member of the Pioneer Peers, says he’s enjoyed seeing the variety of students and cultures. “They brought a new energy to SMC with their different styles and vibrant personalities.”
The college’s previous record class of 469 freshmen arrived in 2013, says Vice President for Enrollment Wells Shepard. He adds that enrollment began declining after that year and continued to trend downward through fall 2016. “The last three years have been disappointing. I’m an SMC alum, and I know the great opportunity we offer our students. It’s gratifying to see the numbers begin trending upward again.”
SMC student leaders, staff and faculty, including Chaplain Tim Drum (in red) assisted students and their families move onto campus.
“Last fall, we created a strategy that took the entire year to implement. It involved improving the admissions process, changing the way we market to prospective students, implementing a new software system and just plain hustle.”President Scott Cochran
SMC students prepare to view the total solar eclipse during orientation activities in August.
In addition to admitting the largest freshman class ever, the college also had the largest incoming class in its history, Shepard said. Five hundred forty eight students paid deposits to attend SMC this fall, a number that includes students transferring from other colleges and also former SMC students who left for various reasons and have been readmitted. Because transfers and readmits aren’t new freshman, Shepard explained, they aren’t counted in the history-making 496-number class.
A new SMC freshman student
and her father during move-in.
A student in the record-breaking
largest freshman class moves
her belongings onto campus.
President Scott Cochran, who took over leadership of the college in 2015, credits the increase to changes in how the college has sought new students. “Last fall, we created a strategy that took the entire year to implement. It involved improving the admissions process, changing the way we market to prospective students, implementing a new software system and just plain hustle.”
Cochran said the 2017-2018 total enrollment of approximately 800 freshmen and sophomore students puts the college on track to reach a goal of 1,000 enrolled students by 2020. This year’s increased enrollment sets the stage for continued growth, he says.
“In January 2018, we’ll begin offering the college’s first completely online degree program, an associate degree in criminal justice, to an audience of mostly working adults.” That program is still pending approval by the college’s accreditation organization, he adds. “The online program is consistent with our mission and history. SMC was originally founded to provide an education to adults who were already working, to help them achieve a better future.”
The college has also partnered with Combine Academy to offer online courses to students preparing for collegiate-level sports, says Cochran. Approximately 30 Combine Academy students started taking courses this fall.
“We feel confident we can take the highly supportive education experience we offer on-campus students and translate it successfully to an online environment,” Cochran says. “We’re a liberal arts college; we absolutely believe in the value of traditional classroom instruction, but we’re also mission-driven to offer an opportunity for a college degree to those who want and need it and who may not be able to get it elsewhere. We’ll meet them where they are.