Colleen Mearon ‘21
More than 1,100 first year students are in the class of 2022, which is a significant increase from the 855 students who entered in the class of 2021 last year. Despite this increase, Merrimack’s acceptance rate remains the same. Rather than simply accepting more students, Merrimack is actually receiving more applications. This has been a trend the past few years, with class sizes growing each year, except for a dip in the 2017-2018 first year enrollment. It appears that as time goes on, more and more students find interest in Merrimack College.
The physical expansion of the school is helping draw students in, which is something that President Hopey hoped for when establishing the Agenda for Distinction in 2011.
“At that time, we decided that over the next 10 years we would make strategic investments in our people, programs, infrastructure and student experience to become a highly ranked, internationally respected college,” President Hopey explained in the strategic plan document. “The Agenda for Distinction has shaped the future of Merrimack College and provided an overarching blueprint for our achievements.”
President Hopey wanted to make Merrimack go from “good” to “great” and hoped it would become more recognized across the nation. “When I visited Merrimack for the first time, I remember there being tons of construction,” first year student Gabby Cicala explained. “This was impressive to my family and me, making me more interested in the school. It’s clear they are making improvements, which is something I’d want to see from my school.”
New establishments on campus include the Welcome Center, Warrior Stadium, and Crowe Hall. The college is expanding quickly, and although this is positive overall, individual students may experience some of the school’s growing pains.
Large incoming classes means more students in need of housing on campus. In response to this, Merrimack built the North Village residence halls, or the upperclassmen honors dorms, in the fall of 2015. With such a large number for the class of 2022, this simply may not be enough. Although some buildings have been renovated within the past year, such as the townhouses near the Sakowich Center, the last new housing buildings put up were those built in 2015. When thinking about the increase of students, along with the lack of new living space, it appears Merrimack has run into an awkward age as it is moving faster than it might be able to handle infrastructurally.
The class of 2021 appeared to take the brunt of the living space dilemma, having to worry about where they’d be placed, despite having guaranteed housing for the first two years of their college experience. Many were put on “waiting lists,” or even had their assignments changed over the summer before a final decision was made about where they would live in the fall.
The resolution to the problem are the Royal Crest Apartments across route 114/125. Many students of the sophomore class were placed “off-campus” in Royal Crest. Students pay the normal room and board fee to the school instead of paying rent to Royal Crest.
“The end of the year was very stressful for my class since we had to attend meetings discussing our living options for the following year,” class of 2021 student Maria Kamenias said. “Royal was mentioned a few times, and it seemed that many other students in my class would also end up here. The apartments were definitely a big change from where I lived last year, but an exciting experience.”
Even with a big change, sophomores have learned to adapt, and some are even thankful to be where they are. Yet this change raises questions about how the college will manage larger and larger incoming classes. This may not be a cause for concern, however, as James Chiavelli, President Hopey’s Chief of Staff and Merrimack College spokesperson, explained that as more students are expected, so are more living arrangements. “The president has mentioned publicly several times that Merrimack is looking to expand housing by several hundred beds. We are exploring many options, including some with private housing developers, to get this in motion.”
Every expansion comes with an awkward age, which the college expected. Balance is strived for, and as Merrimack transitions into this new stage of life, students will see the positives outweighing the small number of negatives.