COLUMBIA - The largest freshman class ever at the University of South Carolina appears to be set to enroll this fall.
And although the school's Board of Trustees approved a budget that clears the way for anywhere from the targeted 3,300 new students to the more likely 3,500 to 3,700 new students, some said the increase could affect overall quality of education and is out of line with the university's goal to become more research-oriented.
Administrators said the sudden jump in enrollment caught them by surprise. The school's unprecedented popularity has thrown off the usual enrollment formula. Overall, the number of students who were accepted into the university and who plan to attend this fall increased 4 percent over the university's projections.
"It's too big," trustee William Hubbard said. "We have to be careful that we maintain quality, and I have concerns that we're bumping against that limit."
Board Chairman Mack Whittle said incoming President Andrew Sorensen, who starts Monday, will meet with admissions officials next month to overhaul the enrollment issue.
Freshman enrollment for fall 2003 will be decided at those meetings and shouldn't exceed 3,300, he said.
Other state universities, including Clemson, also have reported an increase in applications this year, but have been better able to manage enrollments.
Clemson capped its freshman enrollment this year at 2,500.
"We've taken a much tighter grip on the number of students we accept early in the process," said Robert Barkley, Clemson's director of admissions.
University of South Carolina Provost Jerry Odom said recent academic improvements, success in athletics and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks all play a role in the new interest in the school.
But South Carolina trustee Michael Mungo said the thousands of scholarships funded by the state lottery were the "real culprits." State lottery-funded scholarships have made attending state universities more affordable.