Piedmont 20/20: Greek life to help retain booming student population

This is the first story in a three-part series examining changes at Piedmont College.

CAMMIE BAGLEY Executive Director & News Editor

With each passing year, Piedmont continues to see freshman classes that grow in size on the Demorest campus. According to President Mellichamp, larger classes have been enrolling in Demorest and student retention has also been growing in the past year, due to many new policies and accommodations that have been made in regards to students.

“Four years ago I hired a national consulting company to work with us on how to market ourselves and best utilize our scholarship money,” said President Mellichamp. “That company works with our admissions staff, financial aid, and athletics. Across the board they work at ways that we can grow our freshman class, and not just grow the class, but attract strong students academically.”

Two years ago, the college also went through a rebranding process to become even more appealing to students, including a redo of the website.

“When I got here my freshman year, Piedmont’s website was boring and not aesthetically pleasing,” said senior mass communications major Lauren Bartlett. “But when they redid it, they incorporated a lot more photos and it’s much better to look at, which I think will engage prospective students.”

Another way that Piedmont has attracted new students is by becoming a member of the common application, according to President Mellichamp. The common app is an undergraduate college admission application that allows applicants to apply to almost 700 colleges and universities in 48 states as well as the District of Columbia, Canada, China and European countries.

“This administration has a number of goals, but one of those is that we want to grow the undergraduate residential population in Demorest,” said Mellichamp. “We think that’s the true measure by which any college is evaluated.”

The resident population is currently approaching 700 students, and according to Mellichamp, they are hoping that it continues to grow. Some of the factors that have helped student retention grow are the new infrastructure that the college has built, including the Student Commons and the Village, which is now at 60 percent occupancy, according to Mellichamp. Along with the Village, came a new alcohol policy. According to the housing contract for Village residents, alcohol is permitted for guests 21 and over.

Each suite must be approved as an alcohol-permitted room at the beginning of the semester, and no alcohol can be consumed in the presence of minors or given to minors. But as long as the suite is approved and everyone is of the legal age, alcohol is permitted.

Village resident Jonathan Hornick said that living in the Village provides a different experience than living on campus. “I think that the alcohol policy makes it feel less restrictive and more like you’re living in your own housing rather than in a strict dorm setting,” he said.

According to Director of Residential Living Mark Jestel, living in the village costs the same as living on main campus. The only difference in cost involves the ability for Village residents to choose the seven-week meal plan, which can lower the overall cost. Another appeal of the Village is that there is an open visitation policy. Moving ahead, the college is continuing to work on growing student enrollment and improving retention. One of the ways they plan to do that is by approving the reintroduction of Greek organizations in 2017.

According to Mellichamp, there will be three organizations available for students to join, including a fraternity, sorority and a co-ed fraternity. He said that the Greeks would be able to live with one another and have regular chapter meetings, but that it will not be available for freshman.

Junior business major Alan Maslo has acted as a founder of Greek life. He has worked closely with faculty and students to have this project approved and put into action. He said that he strongly believes that having Greek life will attract more students to Piedmont.

“High school students come on tours and ask if there is Greek life here,” he said. “Up until this point, the answer has been ‘no’. But now Piedmont has an opportunity to grow.” Many students agree that Greek life would have a positive impact on student life; however, they also expressed concerns.

Some don’t think that the stereotype of Greek life would be achieved at such a small school.

“Most students here are athletes, in theater or singers, and that’s kind of like their own brotherhood,” said senior business major Nathan Holt. “But it would be cool to get to know other people from different teams on that level through a fraternity.”

According to Mellichamp, the Commons has also had an impact on retention. He said that with the growth in student population, the infrastructure on campus needed to be updated to accommodate students, and the commons was able to do that. In addition, the opportunity to join a Greek organization will help students put down roots here.

“I think all of these things are what I would call quality of life characteristics that I think are important,” said Mellichamp. “When students demonstrate that they have earned the right to enjoy those privileges, we ought to provide them for them.”