funding into its recurring budget. That
move, he said, shows that state leaders
understand and support enrollment growth.
University leaders past and present have
made a promise to educate and train North
Carolina’s young minds — to be the driving
force behind economic and political growth
and improvement for years to come.
“There’s a commitment here to the
state that is sincere and permanent,” Allred
But administrators concluded that
UNC could not sustain high-caliber academics, expansive research capabilities and
community cohesiveness with 35,000 students on its central campus.
“There are people around the state who
would love for us to grow,” said Steve
Farmer, director of undergraduate admissions. But, Farmer added, the quality of students who are admitted to UNC most
likely will decrease if yield rates remain the
same and enrollment rises.
Each year, the Office of Undergraduate
Admissions conducts a survey of admitted
students to gain insight into their final
decision-making process. The most recent
survey examined how enrollment changes
might alter that decision.
The results painted a picture not
unknown to admissions officials. The highest-achieving, most academically talented
students were the first to say no when
enrollment increased. While most students
consider student population when applying
to schools, the brightest scholastic stars are
those who want closer relationships with
professors and a smaller student body.
“I think students — really talented students — want small classes,” Farmer said.
As a major research institution with a
strong undergraduate emphasis on a liberal
arts education, UNC is a magnet for students who are interested in both.
“It lets us offer students the best of both
worlds,” Farmer said. “The students who
are attracted to Carolina understand that.”
While the survey affirmed administrators’ general expectations, Farmer said it is
important for University leaders to remain
open-minded to other perceptions.
“It’s hard to express in data points an
issue of feeling.”
On a warm afternoon last September,
Ben Ostrow sat in Jackson Hall thumbing
through admissions literature with his
father. The two had made their way from
Baltimore the night before and had spent
the morning touring Duke University. After
traversing Tobacco Road, they waited to be
escorted along the brick paths of UNC.
Ostrow, a senior in high school, said he
is more attracted to midsize universities and
planned to send his admission essays to the
likes of Vanderbilt University, Duke, the
University of Virginia and possibly UNC.
“Twenty-seven thousand — that’s a lot
of people,” Ostrow said. “It just seems like
you’d get lost in that many people.”
Coming from Maryland, Ostrow said he
had heard very positive remarks about
UNC’s academics, and he noted that the
University’s average class size is less than he
expected. But, Ostrow said, his heart hopes
for life on a smaller campus.
For those students who have heard
about UNC much of their lives, size of the
student body seems to play less of a role.
Jane Chaffee, a senior in high school
from Greenville, waited for the same tour
Though she said her entire family has
attended UNC, Chaffee planned to apply
to mostly midsized schools such as Barnard
College, Northwestern University and
“I kind of like the midsize colleges, but
it definitely doesn’t rule out Carolina for
me,” Chaffee said.
Talking to UNC students, Chaffee had
heard the campus’s diversity — in academics, campus organizations and race — is a
great perk that comes with its size.
Though growth often is an accepted
price of improvement, administrators say it
is important for the University to keep its
ideals at the forefront of any change.
“There are some schools that have
grown a lot who wake up one day and say,
‘How did we get here?’” Allred said.
“There’s obviously the notion of losing
what Carolina is all about. Yes, it’s a big
school, but it’s still a place where people
come and feel like they fit in.”
— Lindsay Michel
Jesse James DeConto contributed to this
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