By Haley Velasco
With the recent influx of incoming freshman that have arrived on campus this fall semester, there have been issues with student housing, calling for alternatives. Nevertheless, student resources such as the New Student Orientation program strives to accommodate the high volume of incoming freshman to ensure that they have the freshman experience that they need.
According to the Texas State newsroom, Texas State has had a record-setting freshman enrollment of a 14% increase of incoming freshmen since the previous academic year, with 7,573 freshmen that were enrolled for the 2022 fall semester. Because of the high number of freshmen, some have had to stay in study rooms or in the Holiday Inn hotel. This leaves programs like NSO to make sure that all freshmen are as prepared as much as possible for the upcoming semester.
NSO is held in two seasons, with one for the spring semester and another in the fall. The fall NSO is typically held the summer prior, allowing students to explore campus, attend panels to learn more about Texas State and do activities around campus that allows students to familiarize themselves with it.
Shelton Lewis, the NSO program director, has been a part of NSO for three and a half years. He was able to observe that this semester’s class was going to be bigger than normal during the early months of summer this year.
“I would probably say that we kind of started to get an idea right around the end of May that this class could be pretty big,” Lewis said. “Typically, when we track numbers, we kind of see how the class if performing through how many people have signed up for orientation and other things like that, and that number kind of stayed high, so in that point in time we were like ‘wait a minute.’ We started to implement some other things, so that means going back to having enough seats or whatever the case may be, we had that.”
This summer’s orientation was far different from the summer of COVID-19, in which students were given an option to attend orientation virtually. Lewis explained that the orientation held in 2022 is incomparable to COVID-19, due to it getting back into the swing of normalcy.
“The summer of 2020 was our first introduction back to campus post-COVID and everything shutting down, and we actually facilitated orientation a little bit different because we just had one-day session and they were optional,” Lewis said. “This past summer was essentially returning to our pre-pandemic type of orientation where students were required to come on campus and different things like that, so to be honest, it’s kind of hard to compare them.”
Although NSO was designed to help guide students, some students felt it wasn’t entirely necessary. Cara Cervenka, a mass communications freshman, attended one of the earlier sessions of NSO over the summer. Although she had a fun time learning about Texas State, she believes that it didn’t contribute to her overall knowledge of campus, as she spent time discovering campus on her own.
Cervenka also explained how she had a better time at Bobcat Days. Bobcat Days allows incoming freshman to take campus tours, along with learning about housing, financial aid and so much more. Bobcat Days are only one day long, while NSO is a two-day program. Because of Cervenka’s observations on new student programs, it could call for new solutions, such as allowing students to be more self-directed and explore Texas State on their own. This could potentially decrease large overwhelming crowds that were also seen during the orientation sessions.
“NSO wasn’t very helpful for me,” Cervenka said. “I went to two Bobcat Days, and I went here once on my own with my friends, just like walking around campus. I think just being able to walk around and do it by ourselves without having to be in such a large group following strict schedules was much easier.”
Another rising concern that calls for a better solution is student housing. The only known solution is that a new dorm, Hilltop Housing, is currently being built, but it won’t be finished until fall 2024. This raises a concern, considering there haven’t been any solutions announced by the Department of Housing and Residential Life for fall 2023.
Angelina Morales, a sophomore public relations major, was a camps and conference assistant this past summer, along with a desk assistant during the summer of 2021. She mainly served students that were living on campus over the summer by assisting with lockouts and checking in and out students, along with helping with camps and programs.
Morales believes that a first step toward a solution could be better communication and allowing student leaders, such as residential assistants, to have a voice. Currently, RAs are not allowed to comment on the topic of overpopulation.
“I definitely think that the communications within DHRL can be dramatically improved,” Morales said. “I think even right now how they’re telling the RAs to not talk about the overcrowding is kind of crazy because there might be somebody who’s like ‘what if we did this?’ but they’re not allowed to talk to anyone about it, so nobody knows how to fix the problem.”
According to Lewis, the class target for incoming freshman is currently 8,000 for fall 2023, which is higher than this semester’s number of incoming freshman. Alyssa Garcia, an international studies senior with a concentration in Latin America, lives in Lantana Hall. Garcia previously lived in Lantana Hall as a freshman in the 2019-2020 academic year, before having to leave mid-semester due to COVID-19.
Although it may leave returning students with the risk of having to pay rent and other off campus living expenses, Garcia believes that not allowing returning students to live on campus could be an alternative option. This would take out the lottery option that returning students typically can participate in before the fall semester, in which DHRL allows returning students to enter a lottery to possibly house again for the next academic year. If selected, returning students are allowed to choose their dorms before incoming freshmen.
“The construction that’s going on now is more than likely not going to be finished in time for this next class of freshman,” Garcia said. “So, although it may suck for non-freshman who enjoy living on campus and enjoy not paying rent each month, it’s just selfish to take that freshman experience of being on campus away from those people who are living here for the first time.”
Until then, programs like NSO are working year-round to try to accommodate a higher populated class that may come in fall 2024. Lewis explains that the process of planning NSO never stops, and accommodations are constantly made to be able to be a resource to all incoming freshmen.
“Orientation for us kind of never stops,” Lewis said. “We pretty much start planning for the new class in September or early October, so we start putting certain things in place like discussing a potential schedule, the actual dates because we have to make sure that we have enough dates in terms of the on-campus experience; we have to make sure we have enough dates to cover what the class goal is. So, we need to make sure we build enough capacity to essentially help all of the kids that we need based on what the President is telling us what they want the class size to be.”