5050 Ave Maria Blvd, Ave Maria, FL
AVE MARIA — Ave Maria University plans to nearly double its program offerings next year in an effort to attract more students and continue expansion of the still-young school.
Administrators are hopeful the 13 programs, which bring the number of programs offered to 21 majors and five minors, will help Ave Maria reach its goal of attracting 400 new students next year.
Students are calling the growth an exciting step forward for the small school, which was founded in 2003 with just 100 students. It now boasts 745 undergraduate and 113 graduate students, after adding 300 new students this year and 248 last year.
"This is a milestone for the university as we leave the days of being a startup," President Jim Towey said, adding that this round of additions is only part of the plans for future expansion. "It's a big step, but we're ready."
The additions include nine majors and four minors selected based on their fit with the school's mission, student interest and the availability of qualified faculty at the school.
The new majors are American studies, biochemistry, Catholic studies, global affairs and international business, Greek, humanities and liberal studies, managerial economics and strategic analysis, physics, and political economy and government.
The new minors are catechetics, ecology and conservation biology, education, and family and society.
They were confirmed at Friday's board of trustees meeting, during which changes to the school's language requirement also were approved in a move to respond to student interest. Instead of being required to take Latin, students will also be allowed to study modern languages such as Spanish.
The 13 programs approved Friday are geared toward making Ave Maria more competitive with other Florida schools, while staying faithful to its identity as a liberal arts college, university spokesman Forrest Wallace said.
"It will get people thinking about us a little more broadly than they may have in the past," he said.
The potential for growth was emphasized by students, who said they felt the expansion was a positive move despite saying they liked the school's small, community feel.
"I think the school needs to have more people here and that the community won't change, provided that people who are here really believe in the mission of the school and want to do what's best for this place," said senior Alexander Pince, who also is president of the school's student government association.
He said the new majors also will help retain students who completed core classes at Ave Maria and would have had to transfer to a different school to take classes for a major not offered by the school.
Megan Hebert, also a senior at Ave Maria, agreed, saying she expected the change to attract more students.
"It's still a small school, but now that we've doubled our majors there's definitely more opportunity for students to be able to study what they want," she said. She called the school's plans "really exciting."
"It gives hope to the current students that something's happening — something good's happening," she said. "And it gives hope to other students that it's growing and there's lots of opportunity here."
With 500 empty beds in the dormitories this year — even with increased enrollment — and the potential to accommodate about 1,150 students, Towey said the school will continue to grow. He believes enrollment will break 1,000 in the 2013-14 year and new offerings will be introduced in the future.
"We're in the enviable position of having everything in place — including top-notch faculty — where you can grow quickly," he said. "Some schools, they would bust at the seams if they tried to grow as quickly."