This fall, Eckerd College welcomed the largest population of new students the school has ever seen, with 652 first-year students and 54 new transfer students. After nearly two years of remote learning, Eckerd’s newest students arrived on campus in the second week of August from places all over the world, representing 47 states and multiple countries: from the Dominican Republic to New Zealand.
“Online school is so much harder because you don’t really grasp information as well so I’m really glad Eckerd has been able to go back to in-person,” first-year Prech Potesak said.
President DamiánFernándezsuspects the high volume of new Eckerd students and applicants could be due to many different factors, but believes the school’s increasingly impressive reputation is a leading cause.
“Eckerd is on a roll. There’s momentum here, and we are not a well-kept secret anymore,” Fernández said.
In the past year, Eckerd received national recognition for its outdoor classrooms, work with microplastics, the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College (ASPEC) program and more. The school also recently received two major grants from the National Science Foundation and the Tampa Bay Estuary program.
Vice President for Enrollment Management and Dean of Admission John Sullivan said this was the first year Eckerd was “test-optional” for applicants, meaning they did not have to submit their ACT or SAT scores. He thinks this may be why the school saw an increase in applications. Sullivan also attributes higher enrollment to several virtual recruitment events throughout 2020 and the beginning of 2021 as well as the option to take in-person tours of the campus.
“Our visitors said they really appreciated the safety protocols we had in place. They really appreciate that compared to some of the other schools they looked at,” Sullivan said.
Despite the opportunity for growth, Sullivan said the admissions department had a hard time turning down some students who may have been an asset to Eckerd’s student body, but applied late due to the lack of college counselor assistance during a time when many high schools were not offering in-person learning.
Sullivan said, “There were a number of students who were qualified academically, but we didn’t have space for them. It’s difficult because we want great students and they want to be here, but we do have a limit of course.”
Eckerd’s commitment to staying open throughout the 2020-2021 academic year contributed to the school’s ability to showcase campus life in marketing strategies to recruit new students as well.
The college’s location and campus life, in addition to its academics, have been consistently highlighted across Eckerd’s marketing strategies, including its social media pages and print channels. This aims to recruit students who are searching for a school that balances academic prestige with a well-rounded lifestyle.
“Looking across our channels, I feel that we balance our information about academic programs and information about lifestyle quite well,” Vice President for Communications and Administration and Secretary of the CollegeValerie Gliemsaid. “You’re getting the full picture of who we are, which is, of course, starting with the academic program, and building on that with lifestyle and the opportunities that our location provides.”
Another major difference between last year’s first-year class and the first-year class now is the Autumn Term experience. During Fall 2020, masks had to be worn at all times, both indoors and outdoors, no large gatherings were permitted and students were encouraged to have no more than five “close-contacts,” or people with whom you came into contact regularly. This year, large, unmasked outdoor gatherings such as Casino Night on Friday Aug. 13 and the Glow Party on Friday Aug. 27 allowed first-years to experience a piece of a “normal” Eckerd year.
Despite air conditioning problems, crowded lines, overflowing student parking lots and hour-long wait times for the dining halls, first-year Prech Potesak has found that meeting people and making new friends has been easier than expected, partly due to Autumn Term events and in-person classes.
“I met some really cool people, and I feel like I’m thriving. There’s always stuff to do. I have found it really easy to make friends here,” Potesak said. “I’m starting to join clubs like Latinos Unidos, Afro-American Society, working for the waterfront and roller derby.”
As the Fall 2021 semester begins, Eckerd has approximately 1,700 students living on campus, attending class, clubs and other activities. While COVID-19 safety policies are still in place, the return to in-person gatherings and relaxation of some college mandates has resulted in Eckerd students feeling a slow return to life before the pandemic.