Enrollment appears to be up at Waterloo universities despite pandemic

A University of Waterloo sign. Ahmad Fareed Khan / Global News

Given the challenges that university students face as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it would be natural to assume that there would be plenty of them taking a year off this fall but that does not appear to be the case at the two Waterloo universities.

“Fall enrolment appears to be up,” University of Waterloo spokesperson Pamela Smyth told Global News through email. “That said, we won’t have our official numbers fall until November 1.”

Waterloo, which is the bigger of the two schools, had 36,333 full-time students last year.

Its smaller cousin across the city, Wilfrid Laurier University, which taught 16,735 full-time students last year, is in a similar situation.

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“Interest in our 2020/21 programs has been very strong, and we are very encouraged by the increase in the number of incoming students who made Wilfrid Laurier University their first choice,” Laurier spokesperson Graham Mitchell said. “Students are now in the process of making their final decisions in unusual and challenging circumstances.

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“At this point our enrollment is in line with our expectations and our fall programs will be running as planned.”

Their suspicions are backed up by numbers on the Ontario Universities Application Centre website.

It says the numbers are up slightly this year, with 107,001 prospective students having accepted entry into university. A year earlier, that number was 104,635.

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This number only includes potential first-year students so it only paints one part of the picture, although it is made up of high school grads as well as foreign students and mature students.

The situation remains unclear down the road at Conestoga College in Kitchener, which is expecting to feel more of the effects of the pandemic.

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Brenda Cassidy, a spokesperson for the college, says it is still working through its numbers but as her school has a large contingent of international students, it should see the effects soon.

“It seems quite clear that international enrolment will be lower than the college had anticipated pre-pandemic as the result of continued travel/border restrictions,” she said.

Many students may stay where they are and study from the comfort of their home as many classes will operate remotely, which should ease potential housing issues at the three schools.

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All have had to adjust their dormitories for safer COVID-19 practices.

In a normal year, residences at Laurier’s campuses in Waterloo and Brantford would have around 3,700 spaces but this year they will offer 1,800. Students, however, appear to have found alternate accommodations.

“Students are in the process now of confirming their tenancy and so we don’t have final numbers, but we expect they will be below the maximum occupancy,” Mitchell said.

Across town at Waterloo, there were more than 5,000 spots a year ago but the university will offer 2,514 residence spaces this fall.

“We adjusted all of our spaces to ensure there was a student-to-washroom ratio of 2:1 whenever possible,” Smyth said. “This aligned with recommendations from and in consultation with public health officials.”

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Conestoga operates a single dorm at its Doon Campus where 500 students would normally reside but that has been trimmed to 200 spaces, which Cassidy says have all been filled, although that could change.

“Because most of our programs will continue to be delivered remotely this fall, some students may change their plans and put off moving to the region until conditions change,” she said. “In that case, students on the waiting list will be offered the vacant spots.”

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