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Posted: Saturday, July 2, 2016 11:15 pm 

HICKORY – Drive anywhere near Lenoir-Rhyne University (LRU) and you can’t miss the fact that things are changing on and around the school.

From road construction on Seventh Avenue NE, to doubling the size of the Minges Science Center, to the purchase of Hickory House Apartments on Fifth Street NE as new residential space, LRU is on a road of steady growth.

Fueling that growth since 2007 has been an upsurge in academics.

The school has experienced a 42 percent increase in total student enrollment, the addition of seven undergraduate programs and the addition of 14 graduate programs (spread over three campuses and online) for a total of 26. Lenoir-Rhyne also is currently pursuing the addition of doctorate programs to its curriculum.

This academic expansion helped LRU meet some of its challenges in recent years including the financial crisis the country was in during 2008.

“We dug our heels in and said we’ve got to think creatively. We’ve got to diversify,” LRU Vice President of Enrollment Management Rachel Nichols said. “We knew the undergraduate market would be tough so we began immediately adding graduate programs.”

In the last three years, undergraduate growth has also begun an upturn, Nichols added.

“We invested in ourselves and our programs and our operations so we could see that population begin to grow as well,” she said.

The increased growth in student population eventually led to the need for more space on campus, the need for more classrooms, the need for more support services and the need for more housing.

“We want to be able to provide as much housing as we can,” Nichols said. “Truer to our mission, if we’re trying to develop the whole person, they need to be here.”

Dr. Larry Hall, LRU’s provost, credits two factors for the growth in recent years – the improving economy and a change in the school’s profile among potential undergrads.

“Increasingly students now see us as a first choice,” Hall said. “I think our reputation has changed, and I think frankly it’s partly a function that I think we’ve gotten better. We’re a much more quality institution. We also have a lot more choices for the students.”

One of those choices deals was the growth in the number of the school’s graduate programs. Lenoir-Rhyne now offers the Bridges to Dreams program which allows undergraduates to work simultaneously toward both degrees. The school’s graduate enrollment since 2007 has increased four-fold, from 154 to 708.

“The bigger picture is I think we’re a much more academically diverse campus now,” Hall said. “We got so many more programs. It’s just a more vibrant place in that regard.”

The school has also done a good job of managing its resources over the years to ensure it had the funds needed to take advantage of new opportunities, including some of this summer’s bigger budget items, Hall said.

The two phase project at the Minges Science Center that includes the addition of the Alex and Lee George Hall, came with a price tag of $26 million. The renovations and updates to the Cromer Center and dining hall cost just over $1 million. Work to the P.E. Monroe Auditorium is estimated at around $600,000.

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