Philander Smith College has welcomed a freshman class of over 300 students, the largest freshman class the Little Rock, Ark.─based institution has seen in five years.
The increase in new students has driven the College’s student population up nearly 30 percent, for a total enrollment topping 760. This increase follows consecutive years of stagnant and declining growth that saw enrollment dip as low as 500 students in 2014. “This is a thrilling time for our campus community, as this enrollment surge is evidence of the forward progress being made at our institution,” says Philander Smith College President Dr. Roderick L. Smothers, Sr.
While many factors contributed to the boost in incoming freshmen, a majority of the credit is given to the College’s admissions and enrollment management team for its strategies to expose a broader range of prospective students to the Philander Smith experience. One of those tactics included utilizing current students in recruitment efforts. “The students are our product; they are the outcome of the promise we offer. What better way to earn the trust of prospective students than to allow them to hear from a Philander Smith College student who is walking the very path that a prospect wants to follow,” says President Smothers.
With the College’s accelerated enrollment increase, however, came a challenge: a housing shortage. With on-campus residential facilities at full-capacity housing 400 students, the College had to place nearly 80 in a nearby downtown hotel until it could determine more preferable arrangements. Last week, President Smothers announced that the College will utilize land it owns a couple blocks from the campus to create a $1.2 million housing annex as a two-year, temporary housing solution. The new housing community – “Panther Village” – will feature six modern-style, pre-fabricated modular homes situated on the adjacent site that will be enclosed by a gate and offer around-the-clock security, as well as on-site staffing by Philander housing professionals.
Students are expected to transition from the hotel into Panther Village in about a month. The College has already relocated about twenty of the displaced students, who are all upperclassmen, into an apartment community in which the College is leasing units as another means to help alleviate its housing challenges.
“Our long-range plans already included increasing the capacity of our on-campus housing,” President Smothers explains, “but when we welcomed 100 more students than were budgeted for this fall, we had to quickly devise alternate, short-term plans to accommodate our accelerated growth. It’s a situation that we definitely consider to be a blessing, given where our enrollment figures have been over the last few years.” Shortly after Dr. Smothers became president in Spring 2015, the College went through a right-sizing that eliminated some faculty and staff positions and caused cuts to certain programs and services.
Regardless of the challenges the College has faced since the start of the 2016 Fall Semester, President Smothers and his administrative team are grateful to be moving forward and have embraced the large freshman class with open arms.
“We are excited to welcome the Class of 2020, with all of the energy and promise they bring to our campus,” Smothers says. “All the same, we are committed to our students, and our primary concern has been to cause the least disruption to their educational experiences as possible,” Smothers says, adding, “and providing comfortable, safe and secure housing is essential to their success.”
At a time when the relevancy and need for HBCU’s are continuously questioned, the growth and forward movement at Philander Smith College offer a convincing rebuttal.