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Centre Daily Times (State College, PA)
September 18, 2006
Section: CITY
Page: 1

Adam Smeltz

Editor's Note: This is the first installment in a three-part series that examines the record-size freshman class at University Park. Parts two and three will be published Tuesday and Wednesday. UNIVERSITY PARK -- Life inside Club 110 boasts a proud irreverence. Admission is an apple pie from McDonald's. The live entertainment may well be strip poker. And, if you're a girl, you're on the guest list. Greg Impink, of Greensburg, and five other Penn State freshmen run "the club," their name for the otherwise-bleak room 110 in Simmons Hall.
It's a cavernous space -- a converted study lounge -- that has become their home for the fall semester. About 890 other students at University Park have begun their academic year in similar temporary rooms, the buoyant quarters known as supplemental housing. "The laundry's not going to get done until there's nothing (clean) left," Impink said. Occupancy in supplemental housing is up from 875 students last fall, boosted by a record freshman class that has put new pressures on campus infrastructure. Roughly 8,300 freshmen have enrolled at University Park -- up from last year's record of 6,600 to 6,700. The housing division scrambled to find enough space for the newcomers, most of whom are required to live on campus. Some single-occupancy rooms became doubles. About 140 resident assistants gave up their private rooms and took on roommates, even if only temporarily. Renovations in North Halls went on hold. All told, on-campus occupancy has climbed from 13,665 students last fall to 14,110 this year. The total student population at University Park may have topped 42,000 for the first time, though an official count won't be complete until October. In the academic realm, the university added about 300 new course sections in 130 classes just to cope with the boom. The extra class sections, taught mainly by non-tenure-track instructors and lecturers, are projected to cost about $1.7 million. "Everybody did what they had to do so each of the students has a full-scale class schedule," university President Graham Spanier said. Acceptance rate goes 'off the charts' Penn State didn't get here overnight. These are, and have been, turbulent times for university enrollment. More Penn State students are graduating within four years, propelled out by fast-rising tuition, more efficient academic counseling and an improving job market. The portion of undergraduates who earn degrees within four years jumped from 48 percent in 2003 to 56 percent today, Provost Rodney Erickson said. The steady upward swing contributed to a crush of graduates since December -- well more than 9,000 of them at University Park. To keep campus enrollment here at or near 42,000, the administration planned to admit about 7,000 freshmen this fall, Erickson said. Then, according to official accounts, something funky happened. The portion of applicants who accepted offers to attend the university grew dramatically, Erickson said. "Our yield rate started to go off the charts," said Rob Pangborn, the dean for undergraduate education. He said the numbers went wild starting in late April. Penn State uses a precise formula to project what percentage of applicants will accept offers from the university. The university does not release that rate, known as the yield. Spanier said the 5-percentage-point increase this year was unprecedented. The university is trying to analyze what spurred it, Erickson said. Anecdotal evidence suggests that an 11-1 football season in 2005 was a factor, along with attention to Penn State in the media and high-profile research by the faculty. 'Please don't move me' In supplemental housing, freshmen said their class size is a point of pride. "It still is really selective," said Danielle Pavlansky, of the Youngstown, Ohio, area. Her roommate Kimberely Vincent, of Montclair, N.J., pointed to the record 94,000 applications submitted this year. Pavlansky, Vincent and four other first-year women have a view of Mount Nittany from their third-floor supplemental housing room in Simmons Hall. Even if more spacious and private dorm rooms become available, they won't want to leave supplemental housing, they said. The six, like others interviewed for this series, clamored to boast of the camaraderie and quick friendship of their tight-knit dorm group. "Once we met each other, we got really excited," said Leah Donnenberg, of Baltimore. And, "we have more space than anyone," Pavlansky said. Another high point, freshmen said, is that they pay $410 less per semester while in supplemental housing. "Honestly, I would choose this," said Sarah Donnenberg, of Baltimore, who lives in a supplemental room below her twin, Leah. "It's an overwhelmingly good situation." One roommate, Meghan Schiffer, of Long Island, N.Y., left only a whiff of doubt. "We're not being too nice with each other, but we're being polite at the same time," Schiffer said with a laugh. "That might change." Spanier, who makes himself accessible to students through e-mail, said he has heard no complaints from students in supplemental housing. "Without exception, every single student said, 'Please don't move me out of supplemental housing,' " he said. Rob Sakovich, a freshman from Washington, Pa., who lives in Club 110, has reasons for staying. "There's only one girl in the building I don't like," he said. Room for 42,000 Making space for the crowd, even in supplemental housing, took some doing. Housing leaders moved early this summer to encourage older dorm dwellers who were considering moving off campus to do so. They convinced 18 freshmen from Centre County to give up dorm contracts and live at home instead. In re turn, the students got credit for on-campus dining. The housing division also managed to lure eight freshmen from University Park to the Commonwealth Campuses for the year. Even through the stress, associate housing director Lynn DuBois said, Penn State has not shied from its goal of keeping most freshmen on campus. "We really believe freshmen living on campus get better grades and are able to develop socially and ethically," DuBois said. They also eat proportionately more burgers and fries than their older peers, said Lisa Wandel, the associate director of food services. Dorm kitchens have more food in reserves this fall, "just in case we run out of something," Wandel said. Dining areas in some dorms have expanded their hours to better accommodate the freshman class and other student schedules. In town, too, private landlords have felt the boom. The flow of older students off campus has helped drive down apartment vacancy rates to an estimated 5 percent, Dan Abruzzo said. He handles government relations for the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County. "I think it's a good temporary thing," Abruzzo said of the boost. "I think it's safe to say (the vacancy rates) will stay where they are or dip even more over the next three to four years," but only if enrollment is sustained. Apartment-vacancy rates had climbed to 7 percent to 10 percent in the past few years, as university enrollment stagnated and developers added off-campus housing. Setting the bar For now, this landscape is still new to the guys in Club 110. They're clinging to simple goals for the year. Jawaan Christian, of Lithonia, Ga., said his expectations are to pass his classes and to gain 20 pounds. Anthony Vaz, of Kenilworth, N.J., wants to focus on time management. Impink is scheduling quality time with the microwave. "I expect to finish my 24 packages of Ramen noodles," he said. Adam Smeltz can be reached at 231-4631.

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