BAR HARBOR, Maine — New students, a new president emeritus, a new academic year and a new high enrollment figure were celebrated Wednesday at College of the Atlantic.
The school, which was founded in 1969 and began offering classes in 1972, has its largest-ever student body for the 2010-2011 academic year, according to COA officials. It has 360 total students, five of whom are taking graduate classes.
The total enrollment figure represents a 12 percent increase over the 2009-2010 academic year, when the school had approximately 320 students. Classes for the fall term at COA began Thursday.
Donna Gold, spokeswoman for COA, said Friday that since 2005, the school has been following a five-year plan to boost enrollment by about five or six students each year, so it also could increase its faculty base and offer a wider range of classes. But when it comes to accepting students and then trying to predict how many of them actually will choose to attend COA, she said, admissions is always a guessing game.
The college assumes that, aside from graduating seniors, some students will leave COA to enroll in different types of programs at other schools, Gold said. This year, many more accepted applicants than expected decided to attend COA and fewer students transferred elsewhere, hence the 40-student boost in enrollment.
Gold said that in the past decade, the college has been increasing the amount of student housing on campus, but that the main purpose of the building projects has not been to boost enrollment. Traditionally, COA students have found their own housing off campus, and the new residential buildings have given many students al-ready enrolled at COA the chance to live on campus.
“I don’t think you can pinpoint it on one thing,” Gold said of the jump in enrollment. “We have had higher application rates [too].”
COA’s reputation has grown internationally over the past four decades, boosting its profile among potential applicants in and outside the United States, she said. Of COA’s 355 undergraduate students, 58 of them — or 16 percent — hail from 35 foreign countries, making the liberal arts college one of the most diverse in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. It also has been recognized as one of the top schools in the country for academics, environmental awareness and student engagement by Princeton Review, Sierra Magazine and other organizations, according to COA officials.
On Wednesday, COA held a convocation during which it officially bestowed the title president emeritus upon Edward Kaelber, the founding president of the college, who held that position until 1982.
“College of the Atlantic is the vibrant, essential school it is today in large part because of the vision, dedication and determination of Ed Kaelber,” current COA President David Hales said in a prepared statement. “It is thanks to the foresight of President Emeritus Kaelber and our founding trustees that so many thoughtful and passionate individuals continue to make COA their college choice.”
The school held its 20th annual Bar Island swim on Wednesday and had 118 participants, which also is a record high, according to Gold. Each fall, all members of the COA community are given the chance to swim en masse from Bar Island to the campus pier. The swim, which covers about one-third of a mile and takes ap-proximately 20 minutes, is meant to symbolize the students’ immersion in the school’s human ecology curriculum, Gold said.