By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
More undergraduates are heading to Stetson University than ever. It could be the new pet-friendly apartments the school has. Maybe it's the expanded honors program that allows many students to craft specialty degrees. Maybe it's the two new women's sports.
Or maybe, just maybe, it's football. Oh, yeah, football.
Starting in 2013, the Hatters will be hitting the gridiron after a 57-year football fast.
The school has its sights set on having 3,000 undergraduate students by 2016, and it seems to be closing in on that goal with about 2,400 this fall. Bob Stewart, director of admissions, said about 950 undergrads are starting their first year at Stetson this month, 850 freshmen and 100 transfer students. That tops last year's record-setting 850 new undergrads, about 715 freshmen and around 135 transfers.
"We're doing a really great job of telling our story, and we're telling it everywhere," he said.
That whole football thing is the big part of the story Stetson is telling these days.
"I think it's great for the school," James Dreggors said. "I heard enrollment is up, and I think football has a lot to do with that."
Mr. Dreggors was a guard on Stetson's last football team, 1956. The 79-year-old aims to be at Stetson's inaugural game in the Pioneer Football League. He said Spec Martin Stadium, 260 E. Euclid Ave., will probably become his second home during college football season.
Ricky Hazel, Stetson's assistant director of athletics for communications, said 120 students are signed up for the non-scholarship football program.
"Football is not the only sport we added either," he said. "We're adding women's lacrosse and last year we added women's sand volleyball."
The 2013 sand volleyball roster has 17 names, up from 15 for the 2012 spring season. Mr. Hazel said women's lacrosse, which will start in 2013, has attracted 30 students. He said all the new sports add vibrancy to the campus that attracts students and others.
"The primary thing about Stetson bringing back football is to reconnect with their alumni and reconnect with the community," Mr. Hazel said. "Football is a real community builder. There's nothing else like college football. There's nothing in the world that feels like college football."
Stetson isn't the only Volusia County university attracting more students than ever. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Daytona Campus is getting more crowded, too. From 2002 to 2011, the school went from about 4,500 students to nearly 5,000. The undergrad count went from about 1,150 to around 1,310 in those 10 years.
The school started its Women Ambassador Program last year. It's trying to increase its female student count to 25 percent. From 2011 to 2012, the number of new female students at the Daytona campus climbed from 169 to 203.
Most of the school's 2012 enrollment numbers weren't completed by press time.
According to Mr. Steward, Stetson's growth spurt goes against a recent trend among small, liberal arts colleges and universities. Most, he said, are seeing enrollment stagnation, or declines.
"Our number of students who've shown an interest in Stetson has actually decreased," he said. "We're doing a better job of talking to the students who are showing an interest."
Enrollment numbers for Volusia County's other four-year college, Bethune-Cookman University, also were not available.