For the first time in over a year, students are flooding the sidewalks of the University of Florida.
The university welcomed a record-high number of students for the fall 2021 semester. According to the school enrollment office’s official count, 60,613 students are enrolled for the fall semester, an increase of nearly 5% from last fall’s enrollment of 57,841 students.
UF’s population rise is reflected in both the students on main campus and in University of Florida online students. Students enrolled through the main campus went up by 7% since fall 2020, while enrollment for UF Online increased by about 2.5%.
The increase follows last year’s mostly online school year caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although overall enrollment increased from 2019 to 2020, according to the enrollment data, many students were participating in remote learning options.
Following the school’s decision to reopen campus and reinstate in-person classes after almost a year of remote learning, students have been able to see the effects of an ever-growing student population now that they returned to campus.
“The campus is definitely more alive than it was when I was a freshman,” said second-year graduate student Maggie Parrish.
Parrish is working towards a master’s degree in environmental science and attended the university for her undergraduate degree in environmental science. She bikes to campus each day where she conducts her research and serves as a teaching assistant.
“Maybe it’s just because we all had a year off from the crowds, but it feels very chaotic when I’m biking through campus around all the people,” Parrish said. “It’s great, but each year it seems like the chaos increases as the school grows.”
Students are not the only group that have felt the effects of the university’s largest student body in history returning to campus. Gainesville’s local population, especially those who live in the vicinity of campus, are also taking note of the rising influx of students following the lull of the pandemic.
Erika Ryals, who has lived in Gainesville for almost a decade, said she enjoys living near the buzzing campus but notices the crowding effects that the growing student body has on the city each year.
“I tend to keep an eye on particular dates, especially ones such as move-in weekend, and make a point to avoid places like Target and Walmart for those particular days,” said Ryals, referring to the large crowds of students that those stores attract.
Ryals, who livers near campus on Northwest Second Avenue, said she is also concerned about how the historically large student body will affect COVID-19 cases in Alachua County.
The increase of student population seen on the University of Florida’s campus contrasts the trends of other nearby colleges, such as Santa Fe College. Between 2019 and 2020, Santa Fe saw a student population decrease of nearly 12%, according to their enrollment data. This is a trend that has appeared in the school’s spring and summer enrollment numbers from this year as well, although fall enrollment numbers for 2021 have not been released. Last year, Santa Fe College’s enrollment of about 14,000 students was its lowest in at least 10 years.
For UF, enrollment data is not the only indication of increased momentum: The new buildings and businesses that have sprung up in the areas around campus have garnered considerable attention.
Beloved student locales such as The Swamp, a restaurant located on University Avenue until its demolition in June 2020, are being replaced by additional student housing and luxury apartments, indicative of the swelling student population.
The city hopes to balance out the needs of the growing student population with the needs of the local citizens as the city changes to accommodate both populations, said Andrew Persons, director of the Department of Sustainable Development in Gainesville
“We want to make Gainesville continues to grow and develop while also making sure that Gainesville is retaining its spirit as a kind of funky and local place,” he said.
Lila Stewart, the strategic customer experience manager for the Department of Sustainable Development, also agreed that the school’s student body is an integral part of Gainesville and the city’s development.
“From the city’s perspective, we believe we benefit very much from the University of Florida’s presence and the presence of its growing student body,” said Stewart.
The university’s record-high fall enrollment is a historic mark following the uncertainty of the previous year, but University of Florida Assistant Vice President for Communications Steve Orlando said he thought the numbers simply reflect what UF represents in the community and in the nation.
“The trends we’re seeing–not only in enrollment but also in the number of applications we’re receiving–are indicative of the rising national stature of the University of Florida,” said Orlando. “It’s not just the numbers that are important; it’s what they represent that counts.”