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August 28, 1997

14% increase = record frosh class

An all-time record freshman enroll- ment of 3,227 students, a 14 percent increase over last year, sent the University scrambling to increase its on-campus housing over the summer.

The scramble also left Pitt embarrassed when it was discovered that neither the University nor the contractor hired to add bed-space to Sutherland Hall had obtained building and occupancy permits from the city.

To accommodate the increase in freshmen, 208 temporary beds were added to Sutherland Hall, 67 temporary beds to the Litchfield Towers and 12 temporary beds to Lothrop Hall, according to Ken Service, Pitt's director of communications.

Service believes the record freshman class is due to a combination of factors, including increased recruitment efforts and the fact that Pitt recently was recognized by Money magazine and U.S. News & World Report as a "best value" university.

"I really, honestly think there is a recognition that we provide real good value for the dollar," Service said.

Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Betsy Porter called the increase an "across the board accomplishment for the University." She said the administration decided a few years ago to mount a national admissions program that is now beginning to pay off.

"That's not to say that we've diminished our service responsibility either to western Pennsylvania or to commonwealth students," Porter said. "But I think it did open up to us opportunities to explore the University's visibility. "The quality of the institution is well known and well respected outside of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," she continued. "So, once we began to work the market, things began to pay off in very, very big ways." Although the new freshman class is the largest in Pitt history, Porter does not think the University intends to grow at the undergraduate level. Instead, she said, the applicant pool increase will be used to improve the quality of students.

"The name of the game really is quality," she said. "The University is very interested in improving the qualitative dimension of undergraduate education here. That's where we are headed." Along with an overall 14 percent increase in freshmen, this fall's enrollment includes a 29 percent increase in the number of freshmen enrolled in the University Honors College. The 580 students entering the Honors College all rank in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating classes and have an average combined SAT score of 1,320.

Overall, 25 percent of the more than 3,200 new freshmen rank in the top 10 percent of their high school classes and 82 percent rank in the top two-fifths. Fifty-three percent of the freshmen are women, 47 percent are men and 80 percent from Pennsylvania.

The Sutherland Hall building and occupancy permit mix-up occurred, Service said, when Pitt made a decision to provide on-campus housing for students who want it "in as efficient and fair a manner as possible." Instead of adding a third person to a two-person room, Service said, it was decided, as a first course of action, to convert the common areas of Sutherland into bedrooms. Lounge areas in Litchfield Towers also were converted into bedrooms, while in Lothrop third beds were added to a dozen two-person rooms.

That the work on Sutherland began before permits were obtained was a case of "miscommunication," according to Service. The contractor, Wyatt, Inc. of Robinson Township, assumed that the University had obtained building and occupancy permits, while Pitt officials thought that the contractor had obtained the permits.

"That's how it started and it just sort of ballooned," said Jay Roling, Pitt's director of local relations. "It is kind of embarrassing because we didn't have the permits. But we have everything now." Service added that "the bottom line is that all of the work meets all of the existing safety codes and building codes, and the University currently has all of the appropriate permits in terms of occupancy and everything else." Besides the embarrassment, the biggest problem caused by the mistake was a delay in notifying students about their living accommodations and the dissatisfaction of some students with the improvised arrangements.

"We've worked with the students and parents as much as possible to try to accommodate their needs," Service said.

Student numbers routinely drop during a term for numerous reasons. Some students, for example, make a deposit and never show up; others leave school because of family problems or illness.

"For whatever reason, students do leave residence halls during the semester," Service said. "As spaces become freed up, those students who are in the temporary beds will be moved into regular accommodations." Students housed in temporary accommodations have been given a $50 reduction in the cost of their housing for the term, according to Service.

"This is a problem that has not occurred at the University of Pittsburgh campus in a while, but it is a relatively normal process for other institutions," Service said. "In fact, Penn State this year has announced that it will be putting 1,000 students in lounges at the start of school."

–Mike Sajna

Filed under: Feature,Volume 30 Issue 1

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