While many colleges and universities are struggling with declining enrollment, Robert Morris University set a new record high with the Class of 2017. The 985 freshmen who arrived in late August make up the largest class in the history of the private school, which was founded in 1921.
Total enrollment this year is 5,440, including graduate students. Last year, enrollment was 5,110.
"I knock wood every day," said university president Gregory Dell'Omo, when asked how the feat was accomplished. "It's part of the plan we've been working on for the last five or six years."
The record-setting freshman class includes 190 transfer students. First-year students come from 26 states and 19 nations to the suburban campus in Moon.
Robert Morris is competitive in many ways, including price, Mr. Dell'Omo said. Tuition, room and board are $35,000 a year, which is lower than other private schools, where the yearly cost can be as high as $53,000.
About 91 percent of students at Robert Morris receive some financial aid, including state and federal grants as well as aid provided directly by the university.
"It's the whole package" at Robert Morris that's driving up enrollment, he speculated, including academics that offer 60 undergraduate programs and 20 graduate programs; a vigorous residential life that includes 23 Division I sports and many other activities; and a campus that is viewed by visiting prospective parents as beautiful and safe.
In the early years, Robert Morris was considered a commuter school, but the campus now has 14 residence halls housing about 2,070 students -- a record number living on campus. Dorms include Yorktown Hall, the former Holiday Inn Pittsburgh Airport, that is now the largest dorm with 501 students.
Recent appearances by the basketball team in the March Madness that is the NCAA tournament have raised the profile of the university and attracted more applications, Mr. Dell'Omo said. Basketball and other varsity sports attract athletes from all over the country, adding geographic diversity to the university, he said. Referring to what happens to students after they graduate, he said, "Our outcomes have been wonderful for the 25 years we've been tracking this," he said. The Class of 2013 saw 88 percent of graduates landing jobs in their area of study, and about 12 percent went on to graduate schools.
Engineering is the fastest-growing major at the university, he said, with 100 percent of engineering students getting jobs after graduation. Mr. Dell'Omo noted that Robert Morris was known as a business school when he became president in 2005, with 55 to 65 percent of students majoring in business. Now it's 35 percent, he said. "Business majors aren't declining, other programs are growing."
Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-722-0087. First Published September 26, 2013 9:00 AM