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UCF's enrollment surge spawned decade of growth

By Jason Kelly
On June 9, 2013

In late 1965, two men came to town, each with his own dream — dreams that would put Orlando on the map and forever redefine the region.

On one end of Orange County, Walt Disney was crafting his expansive Florida Project. On the other end, another dreamer, President Charles N. Millican, was busy with a project of his own: sculpting a university from scratch.

Before the arrival of both men, Orlando was a sleepy Southern town known for its citrus and cattle.

In those days, Winter Park’s Rollins College was the only show in town, and an expensive show at that. For many young Orlandoans, pursuing higher education meant packing their bags and heading north to Gainesville or Tallahassee.

Initially equipped with little more than $75,000 and 1,227 acres of woodlands and wetlands, Millican transformed a parcel of old Florida into what has grown to become the nation’s second largest university by enrollment.

School records indicate that in the past decade, the University of Central Florida’s student body has ballooned to nearly 60,000 students – an increase of 54 percent or about 21,000 people. This surge in enrollment has sparked explosive growth across campus.

In the past 10 years, President John C. Hitt has presided over the construction of a city worth of new academic and athletic facilities: a hospitality college, a new basketball arena, an on-campus football stadium and a medical school.


Southern hospitality

Before Orange County ripened into a mecca for tourists, it had few sights with which to lure visitors other than the eccentric array of roadside attractions that hugged its highways. But that all changed once Walt Disney World opened.

With almost 52 million visitors throughout 2010, a U.S. Department of Commerce study crowned Orlando the nation’s top travel destination.

In an effort to graduate its hospitality program into an autonomous college, the university opened the doors of its Rosen College of Hospitality Management in 2004 – an effort spearheaded by Dean Abraham Pizam, who inherited the program two decades prior.

The resort-inspired campus, which sits smack-dab in the heart of Orlando’s tourist corridor, boasts a 200-seat dining room and bar, a beer and wine laboratory, two educational kitchens and even on-site dormitories. It remains the nation’s largest facility of its kind.

The school, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, offers degrees in hospitality, event and restaurant management. It bears the name of hotelier and UCF Trustee Harris Rosen, who donated $18 million worth of funds and land to erect the campus that stands a stone’s throw away from his Rosen Shingle Creek resort.

“I made a promise to Dr. Abe Pizam,” Rosen said. “And I kept it.”

Rosen said the establishment of the college is the UCF milestone he’s most proud of, and he hopes that in the years to come it remains “one of the nation’s most affordable great learning institutions.”


The whole nine yards

Were UCF a city, Knights Plaza would be its downtown.

The creation of the athletic village and entertainment complex in 2007 breathed new life into school pride and inspired a new generation of campus traditions.

For 28 seasons before, the university’s football team had played its games at downtown Orlando’s Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. But on Sept. 15, 2007, the Knight Nation flooded the new $55 million dollar Bright House Networks Stadium to cheer on the Knights as they took on the Texas Longhorns before a crowd of almost 46,000 spectators.

Though the boys in black and gold lost the game by three points, it ushered in a new era in UCF football history.

In addition to the stadium, the expansion called for a sleek new arena to be built on a plot of land before its predecessor.

The 10,000-seat arena was designed with more than just basketball in mind; it also serves as a venue for concerts and comedy shows. The CFE Arena, as it’s now known, opened a week before the stadium with a sold-out performance by Grammy award-winning country artist Reba McEntire.

Student Body President Melissa Westbrook said the two venues are anchors of UCF’s campus life.

“UCF allows students to have a voice in many aspects of campus life,” Westbrook said. “These venues are essential to building student morale and establishing our own traditions.”


Doctor’s orders

It wasn’t all that long ago that UCF’s 50-acre Health Sciences Campus at Lake Nona resembled the untouched wilderness Charlie Millican encountered when he first drove out to the expansive property that was destined to become Florida Technological University.

Today, the UCF College of Medicine’s campus is a pillar of Lake Nona’s mushrooming Medical City.

Though the medical school was established on paper in 2006, it wasn’t until 2009 that it welcomed its charter class of 34 students, the first medical school class in U.S. history to receive four-year scholarships covering tuition, living expenses and fees.

The projected economic impact of Lake Nona’s Medical City has been likened to the influence Walt Disney World has had on Central Florida’s tourism industry.

UCF Provost and Executive Vice President Tony Waldrop said the importance of this growth can’t be overstated.

“The UCF College of Medicine, which is the center of the activities in Medical City at Lake Nona, is transforming our region,” Waldrop said. “In addition to improving healthcare and generating important research, the medical school is projected to add $7.6 billion in economic activity and 30,000 jobs to our region.”

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