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Bearcat Camp Ushers in Lander's Largest and Academically Strongest Freshman Class

Bearcat Camp_Ropes
Lander freshman Andrew Chandler, of Aiken, readies himself during the ropes course component of Bearcat Camp. Photos by Deb Nygro

During the student recruitment process, orientation is virtually the last opportunity a college or university has to influence a student's decision on whether or not to enroll. That's according to Andy Benoit, vice president for Enrollment and Access Management at Lander University.

Because orientation is a relatively short two-day event, Benoit and Shelby Dominick Reed, Lander's Director of Orientation Programs, used their creativity to expand this window of opportunity. The result of their ingenuity led to the establishment of Bearcat Camp - an experiential learning opportunity that takes place just prior to the start of the fall semester.

The inaugural Bearcat Camp was held before the kickoff of the 2017-18 academic year, and the results speak for themselves. "We began the year with the largest and academically strongest freshman class we've ever had," said Benoit.

The numbers back up Benoit's statement. Lander began the academic year with a 26-percent increase in freshman enrollment over last fall - in fact, it was the university's largest-ever freshman class, with 768 in the cohort. The class also broke records academically, with an increase of more than 50 points in average SAT scores and a GPA of 3.79. Freshman enrollment has grown 38 percent over the past two years at Lander.

Reed says the purpose of Bearcat Camp is to give participants a taste of living in Greenwood, as well as provide opportunities to develop friendships and engage in the community through service projects - a hallmark of the overall Lander experience.

Attendees of the 2017 Bearcat Camp had the opportunity to choose between two separate sessions: "Adventure & Emerald City Immersion" and "Lander Serves."

"The 'Adventure & Emerald City Immersion' session included a ropes course and volleyball at Lake Greenwood; an exclusive 'paint-and-pour' session at the Arts Center in the historic Federal Building; a visit to the Railroad Historical Center, and a private movie screening at the Greenwood Community Theatre," explained Reed.

For the "Lander Serves" session, participants volunteered at Rice Elementary School, where they assisted teachers in preparing for classes, both inside and outdoors in a garden classroom.

The success of Bearcat Camp is a contributing factor to Lander enjoying the enviable position of signing a large and talented freshman class, in contrast to other colleges and universities that are experiencing a decline in enrollment in recent years.

The process itself is a delicate one, being carefully navigated by Benoit and the Enrollment Management team. "For the first time, each South Carolina county is represented in our freshman class," he said, "and while we have recruited well in North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey, we've been aggressive in recruiting students from Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Alabama."

Additionally, 25 U.S. states are represented, along with 30 countries and six continents, and Lander saw its second-highest ever international student enrollment this fall.

"The key is identifying academically strong students who also exhibit the character that tells us, in addition to coming to Lander, they'll stay, work hard and graduate," Benoit said. "Even though we're definitely growing and all indicators are pointing up, we need to scale our growth so that we can still provide individual attention to our students throughout their time at Lander."​

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