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Double Vision

How U of T coped with the cohort

Last September, the University of Toronto welcomed the largest first-year class in its history. From Mississauga to St. George to Scarborough, 13,800 outstanding first-year students joined the U of T family.

As you know, we have been preparing for the double cohort for several years. In the past few months, my colleagues and I have opened, or broken ground for, a record number of new academic buildings, laboratories, residences, libraries, study spaces and student centres. We have hired new faculty and staff to keep pace with rising post-secondary participation rates that suggest that U of T and other Ontario universities and colleges will keep growing for years to come.How has the University of Toronto coped with this year’s enrolment jump? I asked a number of my colleagues who oversee our divisions and faculties to share their observations. Their reports confirm that U of T staff and faculty, through hard work and great goodwill, brought us through the potentially difficult first weeks with minimal fuss and new hope for the future.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences registered a record 5,000 first-year students at the St. George campus this past fall. “Fears that students might be shut out of required courses proved groundless,” said Dean Pekka Sinervo. “Virtually all first-year students received the courses they needed. Moreover, most were able to register in less than 30 minutes.”

The quality of the students’ experience will continue to be a priority as the cohort moves on through second and third year. As Dean Sinervo put it, “Increased services such as writing labs and college counselling services are in place, chemistry laboratory renovations are well underway and we will be creating new student space in Sidney Smith Hall.”

St. Michael’s College offered a successful orientation that included sessions to help entry-level students select programs of study, choose courses, adapt to university life and deal with professors, said Principal Mark McGowan. “Residences reported no major difficulties, and our support staff is working well to accommodate increased numbers of students in the library, classrooms and washroom facilities. The writing centre has been particularly busy, with many entry-level students in need of assistance.”

The University of Toronto at Mississauga has spent more than $500,000 renovating its largest classrooms and has also upgraded its food outlets,” reported Principal and Vice-President Ian Orchard. Operating hours were extended at both the library and the registrar’s office. UTM has improved transit service, added more than 300 parking spaces and created a computerized, incentive-based car-pooling system.

The University of Toronto at Scarborough added 1,400 students this year. “Some of our existing faculty remember the entire campus at that magnitude,” reported Interim Vice-President and Principal John Youson. UTSC opened the Joan Foley Hall residence just in time to welcome the new students, and after a slight delay, the new Academic Resource Centre, complete with 500-seat lecture theatre. It also hired 26 new faculty – “a real renewal in the teaching and research area,” noted Youson.

In anticipation of the double cohort, the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering expanded its initial enrolment target from 1,025 students to 1,135. By the time all students had accepted its offers, the faculty had 1,260 first-year students. To enhance the students’ experience, the faculty created a new position, Chair of First Year.

In the Faculty of Physical Education and Health, Dean Bruce Kidd compared the double cohort to the much-hyped Y2K problem: “Since we were very well prepared, it came without a hitch.” Thanks to good planning by faculty and staff, registration and orientation went even more smoothly this year than in 2002, said Dean Kidd. “Just to be sure, we will be conducting focus groups to ascertain problems associated with the double cohort and plan effective remedies.”

Dean Kidd also observed that “both faculty and staff have commented on the high level of energy and commitment displayed by the double-cohort class.”

My own experience echoes this point. I spoke at a record 20 introductory sessions at our various colleges, faculties and campuses, and on each occasion I was immediately struck by our new students’ enthusiasm and positive outlook. I very much look forward to interacting with these wonderful young men and women over the next four years.

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