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UMass Lowell thriving

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By SUSAN McMAHON Sun Staff

LOWELL Thinking about applying to UMass Lowell next year?

You'd better start early.

Overall applications to the school are up 10 percent from last year, and the residence halls have a waiting list for the first time since the University of Lowell became UMass Lowell.

"That has given us an incredibly talented pool to draw from," said Lisa Johnson, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management at the university.

Across the board, the statistics are on an upswing.

SATs of the incoming class are up 30 points. The number of people who have decided to attend UMass Lowell is up 4 percent. The students who want to live in the school's dormitories are up 8 percent.

All those upticking numbers validate the generalization of the university as a school on its way up, officials say.

"There have been improvements in the facilities, improvements in the residence halls. We've been remodeling and creating student service centers. We've been investing in our classrooms, our bathrooms, our landscaping," Johnson said. "When people come to visit us, they see all that."

Not only was this year's pool of applicants for the school's rolling admission process significantly greater, but more and more accepted students have decided to come to UMass Lowell. At this point in the year, admissions officials usually have a 2 percent gap to fill from ideal capacity, which is 1,024 freshman students and 740 transfer students. This year, 1,064 freshman students have already said they wanted to attend UMass Lowell.

"We are just experiencing one of the best yields we have seen in ages," Johnson said.

But admissions isn't the only department that has been seeing more demand than supply. The university's residence life office currently has a waiting list for 198 students who want to get into the school's dormitories.

The increase was not one that happened overnight demand for spots in the residence halls have been rising steadily by about 5 percent over the last seven years. Last year, the demand jumped by 8 percent.

The change may signify a paradigm shift in the image of the university. Typically a commuter school, UMass Lowell is on the brink of a transformation into a school focused on residential life.

Many of the physical changes on the campus were precursors to that change, administrators say.

The new student recreation center next to the Fox Hall dormitory, scheduled to open in the fall, will provide a state-of-the-art facility for students to work out and common areas to hang out. Across the university's two main campuses, landscaping has changed a cement-based environment into a green one, and ongoing improvements to the residence halls have made the dorm rooms more and more desirable.

"So we have to do some long-range planning now because this has become such a popular place that we can't accommodate all the students who want to live on-campus," said Larry Siegel, UMass Lowell's dean of student life.

In addition to the on-campus improvements, students have also been attracted by the newest additions to the city most notably the Tsongas Arena and LeLacheur Park. People have already been celebrating Lowell's newfound designation as a destination city. Now the university is starting to see that same attitude displayed toward them.

"It's like Lowell itself," Siegel said. "You used to have to defend (Lowell), but the more and more people that come to visit, they start defending it for you. We're at a point where the graduates are selling us."

For this year, residence life officials plan to house as many of the incoming freshman who live more than 20 miles away as they can during the first semester. By January, following midyear graduations, all the students who want to live in the dorms will be accommodated.

But with the opening of the new recreation center scheduled for September, officials are expecting demand to live in the dorms may go up even further.

To that end, they plan to renovate two floors of Fox Hall, the university's largest dormitory, that were originally intended for residential use but have since been turned into meeting space, providing more rooms for incoming students.

University officials say the large applicant pool which allows the school to pick a high-quality class combined with the increasing number of students who want to live on campus, makes for a vibrant college atmosphere that will continue to attract top-notch students in the years to come.

"It's a viciously wonderful cycle," Siegel said.

School officials say they're already beginning to reap the benefits of the good buzz surrounding the university. Rather than trying to convince parents that the school is a quality institution and the city is safe, they now focus their efforts on questions about co-curricular programs or athletic offerings.

"We're at a point where everyone has begun to sell the school for us," Siegel said. "When you have something people want because it's good, you can spend your time polishing it to make it even better."