At the State of the University address on Oct. 3, ETSU President Brian Noland announced that he wants ETSU’s enrollment to increase to 18,000 students by 2025. Many have asked the question: How can a university with a graduation rate below national average justify increasing its enrollment to 18,000 students by 2025?
On the surface, this long-term goal of ETSU may seem overly ambitious. Noland insists, however, these two aspects are not contradictory at all.
“They both coexist by the very nature that they both involve students,” he said, adding that the current freshman class stands at around 1,800. “If more of those [freshmen students] return for their sophomore, junior and senior year, that’s going to increase our enrollment. If we can improve their success numbers, and our student retention rate, that’s going to help our enrollment.”
Noland noted a fallacy of enrollment numbers is that people “only focus on the freshman class,” meaning that if every freshman class is not bigger than the previous years, the university will not grow. He says that ETSU certainly wants to go to that class with a focus in more international, graduate and out-of-state students, but he is primarily concerned with improving students’ success to keep that class from dwindling year-after-year.
“Our ability to grow as a university is, in many respects, predicated on ensuring that the students who ultimately enroll are successful and realize their dreams,” he said.
The idea of bringing an ETSU education to more students is met with logistics concerning parking and residence halls, but those are steps he and his team are prepared to accommodate over the next decade. In addition, to alleviate any fear of overcrowding the campus, he assures that increasing the enrollment by nearly 40 percent, which now sits at just under 13,000, includes online and branch campus students in Kingsport and Sevierville .
“All of those [logistics of expansion] come together in our strategic master plan that outlines a vision for the institution between now and 2025,” he said.
One of those plans may be requiring freshman from outside of a certain geographical range to live on campus, as ETSU is one of the few colleges in the state that does not require it. This could encourage a higher student retention rate, and the university will be able to accommodate that.
“I think you’ll see us in the next four years identify a location for a residence hall and we’ll probably break ground on a new residence hall,” said Noland. “I think you’ll see us bring in new academic buildings–we’ll have opened a new center for the performing arts. We will expand significant new space in Lamb Hall. We’ll have opened the new space in the Culp Center, so we’re preparing from a square-footage perspective to be a different institution than we are today.”
The goal Noland presents for ETSU may seem ambitious, but he has the confidence in a plan that is intricately laid out for the future.