Ohio University says it’s on track to set a new record for freshmen enrollment in the fall

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Fall freshmen enrollment at Ohio University is on track to be even higher than last year’s record, the board of trustees was informed at its meeting last week.

Ohio University's Cutler Hall on the first day of the semester.
Ohio University’s Cutler Hall on the first day of the semester. [Aaron Payne | Ohio Valley ReSource]
After years of decline, enrollment rebounded sharply in fall 2022, when the Athens campus welcomed 4,441 freshmen, the biggest incoming class in the university’s history. Enrollment for this fall is tracking slightly higher, suggesting that last year’s number was more than just a post-pandemic blip.

“The fact that enrollment continues to go up is a huge help and a huge pat on the back to what we’ve been doing,” Peggy Viehweger, chair of the board of trustees, said.

The board also got a real-time update on Senate changes to the state’s budget bill that could impact higher education.

One would prohibit public universities from requiring sophomores to live on campus, which would impact revenue and could present challenges in a small community like Athens with limited rental housing.

“In Athens we need the dorms, the students need the dorms,” Viehweger said. “We firmly believe that living in dorms is a positive for students for their development and their continued success.”

Room and board is Ohio University’s third-largest source of revenue, behind tuition and state appropriations. Removing mandatory housing requirements for sophomores will not only impact the budget but make it more challenging for the university to plan for how much dormitory space it needs.

The state budget bill also now features elements from the controversial Senate Bill 83, which would effectively prevent universities from taking stances on a variety of political topics like systematic racism and gender identity.

The bill would also ban mandatory diversity and equity training for students and staff in higher education facilities. 

These and other provisions of Senate Bill 93 have drawn widespread opposition from universities and people who work in higher education. It remains to be seen whether these additions to the budget bill survive as it moves back to the House.

A plan for The Ridges, a 700-acre area Ohio University inherited decades ago, is finally coming to fruition. The Ridges, located across the Hocking River from the university, includes the campus of the former Athens Lunatic Asylum along with cemeteries, hiking trails and bodies of water. The university is using some of the buildings and has done extensive remodeling work on those, but the rest are deteriorating.

A new master plan for the large portion of The Ridges not used by the university includes converting some of the buildings into housing. The Ridges could potentially house up to 2,000 people once the project is complete. Three of the buildings would be designated for senior housing with approximately 100 units. The development plan also includes restaurants and retail businesses.

A resolution approved by the trustees begins the transfer of land from Ohio University to The Ridges Community Development LLC, which will oversee the redevelopment efforts. 

Among the bigger developments on campus involves the university’s College of Fine Arts. Trustees were given a presentation breaking down the nearly $100 million project to totally revamp the campus’ arts facilities through renovations, changing buildings and creating an outdoor performance space.

Trustees also got an update on plans to improve the faculty retention rate. A task force formed to develop strategies to retain staff has made recommendations that include adjusting salaries based on peer reviews, increasing the dollar amount earned for promotions, and establishing a new university-wide minimum salary for full-time faculty.

Last week’s board meeting was the last one for the university’s outgoing president, Hugh Sherman. 

Following a retrospective presentation, Sherman welcomed incoming President Lori Gonzalez to take her seat at the board’s table.