The University of Vermont could see its largest incoming class ever this year, as applications rose nearly 40 percent compared to last year.
Other institutions reported big numbers, too: Champlain College saw an 83 percent increase, while Middlebury College and Vermont Law School each saw a bump of 30 percent.
"Increasing enrollment when we couldn't bring prospective and admitted students to campus is quite an achievement," said Stephanie Kloss, media director at Champlain College.
The surge comes a year after enrollments at colleges and university dropped steeply as students chose to sit out rather than enroll in remote classes or hybrid systems. But the numbers for some colleges are also higher than in 2019.
Most colleges are reopening this fall with fewer health restrictions, though many are requiring students to be vaccinated.
Another added boost: UVM and Middlebury, like other colleges around the country, dropped the requirement that students submit standardized test scores. That decision “all but guaranteed a surge in applications from students who otherwise wouldn’t have applied,” Eric Hoover wrote of the national trend in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Institutions of higher education usually don’t report the size of the class until a few weeks after the fall semester has started, but UVM is confident it will be a record year.
“We expect it to be the largest, best-prepared and most geographically diverse class,” said Enrique Corredera, UVM’s director of news and public affairs.
UVM received a record-high 25,500 applications in 2021, Corredera said — a 38 percent increase over 2020 and a 32 percent increase over 2019. The class that entered UVM in 2017 was the largest so far, with 2,642 students. That's slightly more than the number that entered in 2019.
Corredera said the "yield rate" for accepted students, or the proportion of accepted students who choose to attend UVM, appears so far to be higher than usual.
Interest in Vermont Law School in South Royalton is also strong. The school saw applications to its residential juris doctor, masters and masters of laws programs rise by 30 percent for fall 2021 compared to the same period last year. It's also a 20-percent increase over 2019, said Justin Campfield, the law school’s director of communications.
“It is not entirely clear what is driving this increase, but we suspect it has something to do with the pandemic, the nation’s current political and social justice climate, and even the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsberg,” said Campfield, referring to the groundbreaking Supreme Court justice, who died last September.
He added that the law school’s focus on environmental law and justice reform are probably attractive to students because of the recent national focus on the climate crisis and police reform.
As of March, law school applications nationally had surged an estimated 20 percent, according to the online journal Law.com. That's the largest year-over-year growth in applications in two decades. The journal cited an increased attention to social justice, along with "the fact that the pandemic has left people stuck at home with little else to do."
UVM officials think Vermont's successful pandemic response has attracted students. The state has consistently drawn praise and attention throughout the crisis for its relatively low rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths per capita; state officials have said they get calls from around the country — and the world — asking for advice. About 83 percent of eligible Vermonters have had at least one dose of COVID vaccine, the highest rate in the country.
Middlebury College, too, saw fall applications rise about 30 percent over 2020 and 22 percent over 2019. Middlebury said its decision to drop standardized test scores will stay in place at least through 2023.
“We expect a larger entering class because interest in joining us has been very strong,” said Julia Ferrante, associate vice president for public affairs. She said final numbers wouldn’t be available until the new class has arrived on campus.
Other Vermont institutions of higher learning saw stable or declining numbers.
Applications to Norwich University this spring were more in line with a typical year, said Daphne Larkin, director of media relations and community affairs at the military college.
“Coaches and admissions staff not being able to travel during the pandemic obviously created challenges and changed everyone’s strategy,” said Larkin, noting that the college recently increased its recruitment of international students.
Enrollment numbers at the Vermont State Colleges also appear similar to those in 2019 and 2020, said Katherine Levasseur, director of external and governmental affairs. She noted on-campus registration days where institutions typically enroll a few hundred students were canceled due to the pandemic.
“The pandemic has shifted a lot for us in terms of student enrollment, so it’s also hard to compare year-to-year at this point,” she said. “Registration is happening one-on-one in a lot of cases this year.”
Communications staff at Bennington College declined to describe the expected size of the incoming class, but said applications were up about 20 percent over the numbers seen during the last four years.
“Number-wise, this year's incoming class is strong, but we haven't yet communicated news about this fall's class to current students,” said Natalie Redmond, an associate writer for Bennington. “We'll need to get this information out to them before sharing more broadly.”
The incoming class at Saint Michael's College in Colchester is expected to be 10 percent to 15 percent smaller this year than last year, according to spokesperson Mark Tarnacki.
Vermont, which has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and where building the workforce has been a goal for years, this year set aside about $5 million in federal coronavirus relief money to pay for two college-level classes for the underemployed and unemployed. The Upskill Vermont Scholarship Program was created to help as many as 500 Vermont residents take classes at no cost this coming fall and spring.
Gov. Phil Scott announced on Tuesday that applications had opened for the program. All of the grant money was claimed by Thursday.