High Point University Hayworth Fine Arts Center

People leave the Hayworth Fine Arts Center at High Point University on Sept. 17, 2019, after President Nido Qubein announced the university's plans for the next decade. The fine arts center, which opened in 2002, is one of only a few campus buildings that predates the start of Qubein's presidency in January 2005.

One of the clear themes of Tuesday night's announcement event at High Point University was how much the school has grown over the past 15 years. (It's actually the theme of a lot of these big public events at HPU, but please bear with me.)

If you haven't noticed HPU's growth over the years, you've missed one of the more interesting recent stories in higher ed.

HPU got national attention in 2012 with the famous (or infamous) "Bubble U" story in which Bloomberg raised a big ol' eyebrow at the university's rapid growth and its plans for the future. The story appeared as HPU — a school that Bloomberg described as a once "sleepy little Methodist college" — had grown by 25 percent in three years during a crippling national recession under the presidency of someone who had never worked in higher ed. HPU also was planning "new dorms, a health-sciences school, a college of pharmacy, (and) a sports arena."

Today? Enrollment has continued to climb, more dorms and a health sciences building have opened, the pharmacy school welcomed its fourth cohort of students this fall and the 4,500-seat sports arena — along with an adjoining conference center and hotel — is on pace to be ready next fall.

For some context (and so I can find these numbers again should I need them), I put together a then and now list so you can quantify HPU's growth over the years. The "then" numbers are from the 2004-05 academic year, President Nido Qubein's first at HPU. (He started Jan. 1, 2005.) The "now" numbers are from the 2018-19 year that wrapped up in June.

I pulled most of these numbers from my notes from Qubein's hour-long presentation Tuesday night. A few data points come from a new 144-page booklet that HPU handed out Tuesday night to show the university's impact on High Point and the surrounding community.

Here are those then-and-now numbers:

Enrollment: 1,836* then, 5,200 now. 

Campus acreage: 91 then, 500 now.

Buildings: 28 then, 122 now (Note that some of HPU's apartment-style dorm complexes have multiple buildings. The current campus map lists 60 points of interest.)

Square footage of its buildings: 650,000 then, 4.5 million now.

Value of plant and property: $56 million then, $883 million now.

Academic schools and colleges: three then (arts and sciences, education, business), nine now (the previous three plus art and design, communication, health sciences, natural sciences, engineering and pharmacy).

Full-time faculty: 108 then, 330 now.

Employees: 385 then, 1,900 now. (HPU says it's the city's sixth largest employer.)

U.S. News rank: 17th among Southern regional colleges then, 1st now. (HPU has held the No. 1 spot in its category since 2012.)

Annual economic impact: $160 million then, $765 million now (Economic impact in HPU's case is generally a measure of the university's payroll; spending by students, their parents and visitors; HPU's spending on supplies, services and utilities; and donations to local nonprofits.)

Annual Community Christmas Celebration visitors: none then (because it didn't start until 2011), 25,000 over two days last December

• • •

* Here are a couple of enrollment-related points that seem important.

First: High Point says enrollment has grown to about 5,400 this fall. Qubein told me Tuesday that he expects to enrollment to top out eventually at around 6,000. For context, that's on the high side for a private school — at least twice as large as most N.C. private colleges, but a little smaller than Elon and Wake Forest and well short of Duke, the state's largest private university by a mile.

Second: HPU often puts an asterisk by its long-ago enrollment numbers, as it did Tuesday night. Here's why: Its numbers from 2004-05 include traditional-aged undergraduates (18- to 22-year-olds) and graduate students — but not its former Evening Degree Program for working adults, a program that pre-dated Qubein. EDP enrollment, pushing 1,000 when he arrived, was down to double digits by 2013 and now no longer exists.

Back to the asterisk. In 2006-07, according to bond disclosure documents, HPU had about 850 students in its Evening Degree Program and an overall university headcount of 2,811. In fall 2004, according to federal education data, HPU's enrollment was 2,842, and almost a third of undergraduates were 25 and older. (The feds don't care about EDP enrollment.)

The asterisk is HPU's way of saying an accurate apples-to-apples enrollment comparison shouldn't include the evening program because HPU no longer offers it. Even if you do make an apples-to-oranges all-in comparison, HPU's enrollment has nearly doubled in 15 years — a claim that few universities can make. 

Have something to say about the blog post above? Email me at john.newsom@greensboro.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at @JohnNewsomNR.

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