As students return to campuses this fall, some Vermont colleges and universities across the state are reporting record class sizes.
This week, Bennington College welcomed its largest class ever, with more than 250 first-year students and 18 transfers.
According to college representative Natalie Redmond, that number is 30% higher than the average of 188. The total population, including undergraduate and graduate students, is projected to be nearly 900.
The college also saw more than 1,700 applications — another record — marking a 25% increase over the previous year’s admissions cycle.
Redmond attributed the increase to the school’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a successful pivot to digital outreach, which engaged potential students in a year where in-person college fairs and interviews were on hold.
Last academic year, Bennington students living on campus adhered to strict health and safety protocols. Classes were a mix of virtual and in-person, depending on the instructor.
As a result, Redmond said, the college community didn’t see a significant number of cases or any on-campus outbreaks.
“We handled COVID so well last year, as a college,” she said. “Students really took up the mantle and made sure that everybody on campus stayed safe.”
This year will largely be a return to in-person instruction, though Redmond noted there will still be a remote component for students who are unable to physically attend classes.
Redmond also credited Vermont’s overall response to the pandemic as a factor in Bennington’s record class size, calling it a “really big draw.”
“I think that drove a lot of attention,” she said. “Maybe students before that really wanted a college in a city and weren’t really considering a place like Vermont. Now after COVID, and seeing at a small school you can really have a rich in-person experience and not sacrifice that education — even during a pandemic — that’s really somewhere we thrived.”
The University of Vermont is also reporting historic numbers. According to a recent VT Digger report, the school expects to break its record of 13,548 students, which it set in 2019.
While enrollment at Middlebury College, isn’t record-breaking, it is higher-than-normal numbers, said Sarah Ray, director of media relations.
Ray stated in an email there are approximately 2,865 students enrolled for the fall semester — about 300 more than a typical year.
“This is a direct result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, during which our goal has been and remains to give students as much choice as possible in how, where and when they choose to pursue their education,” she wrote.
Ray attributed the high number of students to several factors, which included: the return of several hundred students who took all or part of last year off because of the pandemic; an additional 150 students currently residing on campus because of the pandemic’s continued impact on study abroad programs; and increased interest in the school.
“Interest in a Middlebury education has never been stronger, and consequently a higher percentage of prospective new students offered admission have accepted than is typical, yielding a large incoming class,” she stated.
She noted that also includes new students who deferred last year, resulting in about 50 more first-year students than in a usual year.
Officials at Norwich University, on the other hand, didn’t note any big swings in enrollment, stating that it’s tracking about level with the past several years.
In Craftsbury, Sterling College representative Christina Goodwin stated in an email that enrollment is “stable and on target” for this semester.
“We are at near capacity, accommodating for potential quarantine and isolation,” she wrote.
Goodwin added that the college is offering “affinity housing” this year for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ students, as well as substance-free housing — all of which are at capacity.
Numbers are also up at the Community College of Vermont.
Katie Keszey, CCV communications director, reported as of this week total student enrollment is sitting at 5,201, up 11% from this time last year.
Enrolled new students are up 32% to just over 2,300.
Applications jumped 29% from last year to just under 4,100.
Keszey noted that the fall semester doesn’t start until Sept. 7 so those numbers are still in flux as result of late-starting and flexible course offerings.
At Castleton University, James Lambert, associate dean of advancement, said he is pleased with the school’s numbers.
“We had about 560 new students join us this fall. That’s a good, strong recruitment cycle that met our expectations for the incoming class,” he said.