Rising Enrollment Strains, Crowds Western Pennsylvania Colleges

Article excerpt

During her time at the University of Pittsburgh, Sandy Bly has seen the impact of ballooning freshman enrollment.

Students living in converted lounge areas. Difficulty in registering for required courses.

"It's pretty frustrating," said Bly, 20, a senior majoring in accounting and general management.

Colleges and universities in Western Pennsylvania and across the nation are coping with similar growing pains. Enrollment is rising because of a lack of jobs, employers' demands for a bachelor's degree and more older students returning to the classroom.

At Pitt, where the number of new students increased 12 percent between 2005 and 2009, students initially assigned to lounges were in regular rooms within months, said Bly, a resident assistant. Still, the problem is repeating this fall.

About 50 freshmen will start the school year at the Wyndham Hotel Pittsburgh-University Place in Oakland, Pitt Provost Patricia E. Beeson said. Officials couldn't say how long those students might be there.

At Robert Morris University in Moon, about 200 students will live at the Holiday Inn Pittsburgh Airport this year because of a housing shortage that coincides with a record freshman class of more than 900, said Jonathan Potts, a university spokesman.

Beeson said she and her counterparts at schools across the country had a tough time anticipating the sizes of last year's and this year's first-year classes.

At Pitt and RMU, more students accepted admissions offers this year -- boosting freshman class sizes, officials said.

"The economic uncertainty has made it difficult to know how many students to accept," she said.

A 2009 report by the National Center for Education Statistics projected that America's undergraduate enrollment will increase by 12 percent between 2007 and 2018. That would bring the total to 17.5 million students, up from 15.6 million.

Enrollment among 18- to 24-year-olds is projected to grow by 9 percent during that period, to 12.1 million, while the number of 25- to 34-year-old students could mushroom by 25 percent, to 5 million.

"Today, you need a bachelor's degree or you're not going to do well in the short-term, the next three to five years," said John Hammang, a spokesman for the Washington-based American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert based in Cranberry, published a report last week that shows recessions typically spur college enrollment. …