Mason welcomes largest, most diverse group of new students for Fall 2020

Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

George Mason University this week welcomed its largest and most diverse group of new students in university history.

Mason welcomed 6,589 new undergraduates on its second day of classes, and 54.9% of the institution’s new freshmen come from traditionally underrepresented groups, also a Mason high. There are 3,769 new graduate and law students.

In all, Mason enrollment at its U.S. campuses this fall grew by approximately 2% over Fall 2019 totals to 38,406 students at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is resulting in smaller incoming classes at some universities. Official enrollment totals will come later in the fall.

“Welcoming our largest group of new students to Mason is just one indication of the leading role that our university will play in preparing this generation for success in the post-COVID world,” President Gregory Washington said. “Students recognize that this is the time to double down on pursuing their educational goals and that Mason presents an excellent and affordable opportunity to do that.”

Mason’s in-state undergraduate tuition is the lowest among Tier 1 research universities in Virginia, frequently landing Mason on higher education “best value” lists.

David Burge, vice president for enrollment management, said the enrollment increases are thanks in part to Mason’s partnerships with Northern Virginia Community College and Wiley & Sons, including a recent expansion of online programs for graduate students with work and family responsibilities.

Burge, noting that Mason also had record summer enrollment, cited the collaborative efforts of the entire Mason community during a time of crisis as the greatest factor for the fall enrollment gains. Specific achievements included virtual recruitment programs that were launched soon after the pandemic shifted the university to alternative instruction, streamlining ways for students from other four-year institutions to enroll at Mason, coordinated efforts through the budding Mason Care Network, and creation of virtual services delivered through the Mason Student Services Center.

Burge added that the university’s Student Emergency Assistance Fund and two rounds of CARES Act funding also helped keep students engaged and enrolled during a financially challenging time for many.

In an effort to build confidence in taking more of their university courses online, Mason permitted incoming undergraduates to sample online courses over the summer for free. About 700 took advantage of that offer, and many decided to enroll in the courses to earn credit before they officially began their academic careers at Mason.

While Mason has always enjoyed a strong reputation for serving students, “once the pandemic hit, students were watching us very closely to see the care and compassion with which we responded,” Burge said. “The fact that students chose to enroll with us is a proof point of the success of collaborative work that we did as a university—and a reminder of how much work we have left in front of us to make good on that promise.”