By Kate Mitchell – News Editor
This semester marks a new beginning for the members of the Roger Williams community as the university proudly hosts the largest freshman class in its history. Some of the returning upperclassmen have no doubt noticed this sudden change in campus dynamic. After all, the Commons and gym have been a bit more crowded than usual these days, and no one even wants to imagine what the library will look like come midterms with students desperately searching for a nook to study. Before the university launches itself into a state of emergency-level panic on account of the slightly larger population of underclassmen this semester, everyone can rest easy, reassured in knowing that the comfortable way of life at Roger Williams is expected to carry on as usual.
The initial assumption that likely popped into everyone’s mind when they first learned of this population increase is that Roger Williams must be suffering financially in some manner and demanded more students to keep the ship from sinking. According to Vice President of Student Life, Doctor John King, that is simply not the case.
“The acceptance rate remained essentially the same. But the yield–the yield being the number of students who accept our offer and commit to the university–that increased approximately two percentage points,” King said.
As of opening weekend this August, there were 1,230 new freshmen students and 81 transfer students welcomed into the RWU community. In the past five years alone RWU has had three of the largest freshmen classes in university history, with the previous record-breaking year occurring in the Fall semester of 2014.
“Approximately half of all the students that attended Accepted Students Day ended up committing to Roger Williams,” King said.
Despite the fact that there seems to be a rising interest from applicants in attending the university, many will question what sort of repercussions or changes this inflated population will have on the very characteristics that provide RWU with its identity and make it desirable.
“Where we anticipated the biggest impact was in the dining hall in terms of seating capacity, because we have 640 seats in the dining hall,” King said.
In order to accommodate the large number of people that crowd the Commons during peak hours throughout the academic day, Student Affairs has strategically worked out several changes to ensure that all students feel comfortable while dining. These alterations include opening up the reserved dining room in Upper Commons for student-access during lunch and dinner, as well as keeping Upper Commons open an additional 30 minutes at dinner, now closing at 8:30 p.m. from Monday to Friday. This additional 30 minute window will remain in effect until the end of daylight savings time. The Office of Student Affairs has also asked that faculty and staff refrain from eating in Upper Commons between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. from Monday to Friday.
In regard to housing, there have been several plans already in the works that investigate the possibility of additional housing accommodations on campus.
“We are currently in the design phase for a small addition to the Bayside living community. It’s a possible two-stage expansion to add 80 beds on campus, and these would be constructed in the vicinity between the parking lots of North Residence Hall and the Bayside driveway,” King said.
Last week RWU opened with 112 freshmen triples, which means that 336 students–more than 25% of the Class of 2020–moved into a triple on campus. With the prospect of an extension to one of the residency buildings, RWU will be able to ensure that the campus remains a comfortable experience for all first-year students.
Perhaps the greatest concern about the class size corresponds with the question of how such a large population will alter the academic affairs of RWU.
“One of the most positive aspects of this large class is that there is no decrease in academic ability compared to previous classes. We maintain quality despite increasing the size of the class,” King said.
According to King, Academic Affairs swiftly responded to the increased class size by setting a cap of 25 students in each course, and adding sections where they were needed, thus leaving the traditional small class sizes in tact.
“Yielding such a great class involves the cooperation of many stakeholders at Roger Williams, starting from the President’s leadership, to the presence of faculty, and staff, and student leaders at Open Houses and Accepted Students Days, and the dedicated efforts and communication of the Admissions Office and Financial Aid Staff,” King said.