Belmont welcomes largest-ever freshman class

Friday, August 22, 2014, Vol. 38, No. 34
By Sam Stockard

Belmont recently opened its Wedgewood Academic Center, which has  20 science labs. These  labs have been outfitted with more than $2 million dollars in equipment, including state of the art spectrometers, a microwave reaction chamber, a cold room and incubators for biological studies, a state-of-the-art laser laboratory and an acoustics laboratory.

-- Submitted Photograoh Courtesy Of Belmont University

If you graduated from Belmont 20 years ago, you might not recognize the campus today.

Near ceaseless on-campus construction and a huge spike in enrollment has changed the once-sleepy little school into a major player in Nashville and in national collegiate circles.

Just in the past few days, officials opened two new buildings, the Wedgewood Academic Center and Two Oaks residence Hall – particularly welcome additions as Belmont is projecting an enrollment of 7,000 students this fall.

The freshman class should be a record of 1,400-plus, says David Mee, associate provost and dean of Enrollment Services.

“The success of our school’s rapid transformation is in the results: Your student body doesn’t explode from 3,000 to 7,000 students in just over a decade unless your policies are working,” says Skyler Schmanski, Student Government Association vice president.

“My vision for what this university can – what my life can be – expands with each new building that reaches skyward, every new student that chooses to call Belmont home.”

Belmont is a special place, Schmanski says, because it isn’t afraid to “test its future” but doesn’t forget its roots.

“When I stand on that graduation stage, I know will not be alone in believing that I am ready to challenge the world beyond Belmont’s walls,” he says.

92% – and what it means

Belmont President Bob Fisher acknowledges he is biased but contends “there is no better story in higher education today than Belmont University.”

Fisher points out that Belmont’s sustained growth – not from online courses – has built the quality of education the university offers and improved its national rankings. The university focuses on offering small class sizes and personal attention that help students build stronger connections with faculty and classmates.

“Our latest First Destination Rule – the percentage of graduates who find full-time employment or enroll in graduate school – just hit 92 percent, which is a fantastic number and another sign that Belmont is succeeding in its mission to provide a transformational education that empowers students to develop their gifts so that they can engage and transform the world.”

Mee adds the entire university is involved in helping Belmont improve the student experience and continue growing amid stagnant enrollment nationally.

“Belmont is a unique story – one highlighted by a daily commitment to living out our mission and values. And by doing so, students continue to be attracted to Belmont and Nashville from all 50 states and many countries, and in record numbers,” Mee says.

Reaching out, giving back

Belmont is embarking on a second Bridges to Belmont class, with 30 scholarship students from Metro Nashville Public Schools. These students are ones who might not have been able to afford Belmont or even know about it.

Tuition at Belmont is at $28,660 for 2014-15, a 4.7 percent increase in tuition and fees from the previous school year.

With Bridges to Belmont, all costs for tuition, room, board, fees and books that aren’t covered by state and federal funding are paid through Belmont scholarships that could total more than $10 million in the program’s first four years, according to university officials.

At its inception, the program provided scholarships to Maplewood and Stratford high schools and is expanding to Whites Creek and Pearl-Cohn high schools this year. Besides holding a 3.0 grade-point average in core academic courses, applicants must show leadership, high academic motivation and good character, as well as demonstrate financial need.

Many of the Bridges scholars are the first college students in their families.

“At the heart of Belmont’s mission is our desire to provide a transformative education to our students in the hopes that they can then take their skills, passions and talents and make a difference in the world around them,” Fisher says.

“I honestly can’t think of a better example of us living out that mission than what we are doing with the Bridges program. I’m thrilled to have these local students as part of the Belmont community.”

Belmont hired Mary Clark this year to direct the Bridges program, which it considers a deliberate effort to enhance “cultural and ethnic diversity” in the campus community while offering higher education opportunities to Davidson County students.

Bridges scholars begin with a Summer Academy in which students take a first-year seminar, focusing on writing and math, as well as leadership skills and academic development courses. They give their time to nonprofits, too.

“The program is one that I believe is an exceptional display of Belmont’s commitment to truly being Nashville’s University,” says Clark, who previously worked at Marshall, Saint Louis and Marquette universities.

There’s always music

Belmont has added a music therapy major this fall, shoring up what is already considered one of the strongest college music programs in the nation.

Music therapy majors will be required to take 20 hours of music therapy courses and experience a six-month internship, possibly outside of Nashville. Graduates also will be required to pass board certification.

Because of the health care opportunities available regionally, “this new program is a perfect fit for Belmont and the broad community,” says Madeline Bridges, associate dean for academic studies.

Music therapy can be used in a variety of ways, including pain management, pediatrics, geriatrics, psychiatric practice, special education and hospice care.

The university also is adding a publishing major, considered a natural fit Nashville, the second largest publishing market in the nation.