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More students choosing UConn-Avery Point as their first choice

Groton — The University of Connecticut at Avery Point, once considered a feeder school to the main campus and strictly for commuters, has more students applying to the campus as their first choice and more living in off-campus housing, campus officials said.

Classes started Monday at UConn-Avery Point and final enrollment data had not yet been compiled, but the campus reported a 29 percent increase from last year in the number of students who applied to Avery Point as their first choice, said Laurie Saunders, senior admissions officer.

“I think it’s significant because students are recognizing that they can stay closer to home, they can save money and they can start their journey with small classes and personal attention at a regional campus,” she said. “And yet it’s all UConn.”

The university has six campuses, including the main campus at Storrs, the only one that offers student housing.

The freshman class includes students from 82 cities and towns in Connecticut, including some who are too far to commute, Saunders said.

In 2008, the campus had 98 students registered with the off-campus housing office, said Lisa Hastings, transportation and off-campus housing coordinator. 

Last year, 170 students registered with her office and she expects about 200 students to register this year, she said.

"If you figure we have about 765 students (enrolled) and almost 200 are in apartments, it's a different makeup of campus," Hastings said. "It used to be more regionally located students. And now we have students who are from far away who require an apartment. They're not from around here."

Interim campus Director Joseph Madaus said UConn has become more competitive systemwide and some of those admitted are opting for a regional school for a variety of reasons: to stay closer to home, save money or enjoy small classes.

UConn-Avery Point also has gained recognition for its focus on marine science and maritime studies, along with its setting and clubs, including sailing. The campus received 194 freshman applications in 2014 and 251 applications in 2015.

Hastings has worked informally with private apartment complexes since 2008 to discuss student needs, such as 9-month leases. At first, they hesitated, she said.

Now word is spreading among students that "you can stay off campus at Avery Point and, depending on your major, you can stay for one year or four years," she said.

Groton Estates rented 19 apartments to students attending UConn-Avery Point this semester, she said.

The campus is piloting a shuttle program this fall that sends a 15-passenger van among four apartment complexes in Groton and the campus.

The campus hired students to drive the van. The shuttle schedule still is being adjusted.

The student arrangements are, in some ways, a reverse of what's traditionally been done, she said. 

Instead of living in a dorm for the first couple of years and then moving into an off-campus apartment, at Avery Point there are no dorms. 

So freshman — including some who don't yet have a driver's license — are living independently right out of high school.

"Most of them are freshman and sophomores and they immediately have to learn how to be a good neighbor, how to be fiscally responsible, pay their bills," Hastings said, adding that it's a lot to take in. "They're young to be doing all that."  

The campus holds a barbecue for students living near the campus but away from home to introduce them to the area, as the reach of the campus has grown.

Staff explain where the nearest hospital is, what Millstone Power Plant is, and what city and town ordinances they should be aware of.

Tyler Olsen, 19, of Ashford, wanted to attend UConn-Storrs because it’s 10 minutes from his house, but he was accepted into UConn-Avery Point.

He’s renting an apartment with a roommate from Glastonbury in Groton Estates apartments.

“I actually like it down here,” Olsen said Tuesday while in the student center during a break from class.

He’ll probably transfer to Storrs because his degree program is offered there, but if he had the choice, he said he doesn’t know what he’d do.

Gavin Weyman, 18, a freshman from Raynham, Mass., was accepted to Storrs but chose Avery Point to play on the junior college baseball team. He lives in Country Glenn Apartments with three other baseball players, he said.

“It was right for me, I guess,” he said. It’s "just a smaller school.” He also liked that it was relatively close to home and would make for an easy transition to a larger campus setting.

Alexa Massad, 18, a sophomore who commutes from Waterford, said she was accepted to other schools, but chose UConn-Avery Point.

"I kind of liked the idea of a smaller campus with smaller classes for a few years, and I really like the campus, too," she said.

Alexandra Atherton, 18, a sophomore from East Lyme, said she also had other options but chose UConn-Avery Point to be closer to home. 

Her mother attended the school and enjoyed it, and the campus has offered other benefits like saving money, Atherton said.

Massad agreed.

“Looking back, it was probably one of the smartest decisions I’ve made,” she said.

d.straszheim@theday.com

Twitter: @DStraszheim

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