Retrospective: A decade of unprecedented growth for Elon University

A look back at 10 years of unprecedented growth and achievement for Elon as it prepares to embark on a new decade.

PHOTO GALLERY: Retrospective – Elon University through the 2010s

Ten years ago, Elon embarked on what has become the most transformative decade in the university’s 130-year history. With its adoption in December 2009 of a new 10-year strategic plan, the Elon Commitment, the university set out on a path of unprecedented growth toward its designation as a top-100 national university.

The past 10 years have seen an investment of more than $800 million, the creation of more than 40 new academic majors, programs and centers, a 25 percent increase in enrollment and 63 percent increase in facility space, and contributions to the university of more than $220 million. With growth guided by the Elon Commitment, the university has fully assumed a position of national leadership.

The progress was affirmed in fall 2019 when Elon University moved from the regional category to be classified as a national university by U.S. News & World Report, ranked as No. 84 among the nation’s most prestigious institutions. Elon was ranked #2 nationally for undergraduate teaching, behind Princeton and #11 nationally for innovation, while retaining its status as the only university in the country to be recognized by U.S. News for excellence in all eight academic programs “Focused on Student Success.”

Now as the university prepares to unveil its next 10-year strategic plan and step forward into a new decade, it’s time to look back at how Elon has grown, matured, excelled and fostered the growth of thousands of students, faculty and staff during the 2010s.

Elon’s campus community

In the 2009-10 academic year, Elon enrolled 4,995 undergraduate students and 671 graduate students. By fall 2019 enrollment had grown to 6,277 undergraduates and 811 graduate students. The Class of 2013, which entered in fall 2009, was made up of 1,291 students; this fall Elon welcomed the 1,659 members of the Class of 2023.

A scene from Move In Day 2019

Elon’s faculty ranks have continued to grow during the past decade as part of the university’s commitment to engaged experiential learning, and the life-changing relationships between students and mentors. In 2009, Elon had 343 full-time faculty members, and that number grew to 446 for the current academic year.

Elon students now have the opportunity to take advantage of a broader array of academic opportunities, including service-learning, global experiences and new academic programs. The decade has seen the addition of scores of new majors including applied mathematics, astrophysics, public health studies, media analytics, entrepreneurship, finance, international business, marketing and more. At the graduate level, Elon added graduate degree programs in interactive media, physician assistant studies, management, accounting and higher education.

The fountain being installed in front of the new Gerald L. Francis Center, home to Elon’s School of Health Sciences

New centers established during the past decade have demonstrated Elon’s commitment to preparing students for future careers, fostering diversity and inclusion on campus, supporting the development of first-generation and low-income students, and partnering with Alamance-Burlington School System on student success.

In 2012, Elon created both the Student Professional Development Center to assist students with internships and career development, as well as the Center for Engaged Learning, which brings together preeminent scholars from around the world to share information and researches about best practices in undergraduate teaching and learning.

In 2014 the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education was established as a successor to the university’s Multicultural Center to offer expanded support and programming to Elon’s increasingly diverse student population. That same year saw the creation of the Center for Access and Success, which includes the Odyssey Program, the Elon Academy and the “It Takes a Village” Program.

Through the decade, Elon continued its standing as the #1 university for study abroad, according to the Institute of International Education, with a larger segment of Elon students now participating in study abroad programs each year. In 2009, 996 Elon students participated in a short-term or semester-long study abroad program, and that number has grown to 1,706 this year. Seventy-eight percent of Elon graduates now have at least one study abroad experience during their time at Elon, with the Elon Commitment achieving 100 percent access to a global engagement experience. Semester programs staffed by Elon faculty were established in Florence, Shanghai, Dublin and Dunedin, New Zealand. Study USA launched in 2012 with semester and summer programs, including internships, in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.

Elon took a great stride forward in 2010 with the installation of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter at the university, a monumental milestone that speaks to its continued pursuit of excellence in the arts and sciences. Elon University School of Law, which accepted its first students in 2006, secured full approval from the American Bar Association in 2011, the earliest possible date to achieve that approval. In 2015 the school adopted a groundbreaking 2.5-year, highly experiential curriculum that modeled a new approach to higher education.

Dr. J. Earl Danieley, president emeritus

The decade was a time to say goodbye to one of Elon’s most-beloved figures, President Emeritus J. Earl Danieley, who passed away at the age of 92 in 2016. It has also been a time to welcome Elon’s newest president, with Connie Ledoux Book taking office in March 2018 as Elon’s ninth president, following the conclusion of Leo M. Lambert’s 19 years of service as president.

Philanthropy and alumni engagement

Alumni from across generations gathered for the “Long Maroon Line” during Elon’s 125th anniversary celebration in 2014.

Elon’s enrollment growth has of course translated into significant increases in the number of alumni during the past decade, and extensive efforts by the university have results in an alumni body that is more engaged than ever. The number of alumni chapters across the country has more than tripled during the past 10 years, with Elon alumni now connecting each other and the university through 39 chapters. Elon has established the Young Alumni Council along with affinity groups for black, Latinx/Hispanic and Jewish alumni. The number of engaged alumni grew from 25,00 in 2009 to 6,827 during 2019.

Elon has seen similar growth in philanthropy, with a larger section of Elon supporters contributing to the university’s mission. Annual giving participation during the decade has grown from 16 percent of alumni in 2009 to 26 percent in 2019. Faculty and staff giving participation grew from 34 percent to 80 percent while giving by parents grew from 29 percent to 33 percent. That’s contributed to the endowment growing from $82.1 million at the start of the decade to nearly $270 million at the end.

Elon celebrated the successful conclusion of the Ever Elon campaign in 2011, with university supporters combining to commit more than $100 million to Elon.

Elon has received generous gifts totaling $221 million during throughout the years covered by the 10-year Elon Commitment strategic plan. The university in 2011 celebrated the conclusion of the $107 million Ever Elon Campaign, and earlier in 2019, launched the public phase of the Elon LEADS Campaign, which seeks to raise $250 million by 2022.

Since 2014, Elon supporters have rallied around the university during an annual day of giving each March — Elon Day. Each year, alumni, students, faculty, staff, parents and other university supporters have topped the totals for the year before. The first Elon Day in 2014 saw about 1,000 donors come together to pledge nearly $117,000 in gifts. This past March, nearly 6,000 contributors committed to close to $2.4 million in support for the university they love.

Elon’s living and learning environment

Construction of the Global Neighborhood during July 2014

The campus environment has been transformed since 2009, with more than 75 buildings built, acquired or expanded, and the total square footage of campus facilities growing by 63 percent. Four residential neighborhoods were built, along with two new dining halls, which added more than 1,100 beds and increased the percentage of undergraduates living on campus grown from 58 percent to 64 percent.

Among the larger residential campus projects were the addition of The Station at Mill Point in 2011, the construction of the Global Neighborhood and Global Commons adjacent to Lake Mary Nell, which opened in 2014, and the new East Neighborhood, which first welcomed students in 2018. Lakeside Dining Hall was added to Moseley Center in 2013, Clohan Dining Hall was dedicated in 2017 and an expanded and renovated McEwen Dining Hall reopened in 2018.

Demolition of Story Center dorms to make way for the new Lakeside Dining Hall and meeting rooms.

Across campus, new academic facilities were designed to support faculty-student interaction and experiential learning, with flexible classrooms, studios and labs, maker spaces and small-group study spaces. Among the academic and support facilities added during the decade were Martha S. and Carl H. Linder III Hall, the Numen Lumen Pavilion, the Gerald L. Francis Center, new School of Communications facilities Dwight C. Schar Hall, Steers Pavilion and the Snow Family Grand Atrium, the Inman Admissions Welcome Center, the Koenigsberger Learning Center, Richard W. Sankey Hall and the Inn at Elon, slated to open in January 2020, among others.

A map displaying facilities that were built or renovated during the past decade.

Paired with Elon’s athletics success during the 2010s has been the addition of state-of-the-art facilities to showcase the talents of the university’s student athletes across a variety of sports. Elon’s basketball teams and volleyball team now compete in Schar Center, the premier 150,000-square-foot, 5,100-seat arena that opened in fall 2018. Rhodes Stadium saw the addition of Alumni Field House and Hendrickson Football Center in 2011, and across Williamson Avenue, Hunt Softball Park opened in 2013, along with other athletics facilities upgrades and additions.

Construction progressing on the Schar Center.

Cultural highlights

As Elon University’s national profile has grown, so has the caliber of speakers and performances the university hosts on its campus each year. Its annual Speaker Series now attracts leaders from the political, social and cultural realms each year, with the addition of Schar Center in 2018 greatly expanding the capabilities to attract large-scale cultural events.

During the 2019-20 Speaker Series, Elon has already hosted Nikki Haley,the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., as well as free speech activist and author Zachary R. Wood and former U.S. Attorney Preet Bahara. Coming in 2020 will be actress, author and activist Sonia Manzano, best known as “Maria” on “Sesame Street” on Jan. 14, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on April 7 and Frederick M. Lawrence, renowned civil rights scholar, author, secretary/CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society and former president of Brandeis University, on April 16. On March 10, Elon will host a panel discussion of experts looking at the national significance of North Carolina to next year’s presidential election.

Here’s a look back at some of the other nationally and internationally prominent speakers Elon audiences have heard from during the past decade:

  • Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard (2019)
  • Legal scholar Anita Hill (2019)
  • Psychologist and author Angela Duckworth (2018)
  • Former British Prime Minister David Cameron (2017)
  • Journalist Bob Woodward (2016)
  • Journalist and author Walter Isaacson (2016)
  • Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (2015)
  • Violinist Itzhak Perlman (2015)
  • Journalist Nicholas Kristof (2010, 2014)
  • Sportscaster and professional tennis player Mary Carillo (2014)
  • Tech pioneer Steve Wozniak (2013)
  • Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus (2013)
  • Poet, author, playwright and educator Maya Angelou (2012)
  • Humorist and columnist Dave Barry (2011)
  • Historian and author John Meacham (2010)

Athletic accomplishments

Elon moved from the Southern Conference to the Colonial Athletic Association in 2014, joining a group of prestigious schools in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Since 2009 Elon student-athletes have claimed 19 conference championships.

Among the highlights from the past decade:

May 14, 2010 – A 6-3 victory over UNC Greensboro in the Southern Conference Softball Tournament title game gave Elon its first NCAA Division I Regional berth in that sport. It also marked the first women’s team SoCon tournament title.

March 17, 2011 – The women’s basketball team recorded a 103-72 victory over USC Upstate to earn its first-ever NCAA Division I post-season game. Elon’s inclusion in the 2011 Women’s Basketball Invitational was the first post-season bid since the 1981-82 season at the NAIA level.  The Phoenix finished the year with a program D-I record 20 wins.

April 4, 2011 – Elon officially dedicated Alumni Field House prior to is annual spring football game.

March 20, 2012 – Elon announced the addition of women’s lacrosse as its 17th varsity sport and began play in the 2014 season. February 20, 2013 – Elon officially opened Hunt Softball Park against Campbell University.

May 23, 2013 – Elon announces that it will join the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) as of July 1, 2014.

April 19, 2014 – The Elon women’s tennis program defeated Samford 4-2 to win the program’s first Southern Conference Tournament crown and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

July 1, 2014 – Elon officially joins the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) following 11 seasons as a member of the Southern Conference.

November 22, 2014 – Men’s cross country runner Luis Vargas becomes Elon’s first NCAA Division I All-American in the sport after placing 25th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana.

May 2, 2015 – The Elon women’s track and field team wins its first conference title, and the athletic department’s first CAA crown.

March 1, 2017 – Women’s basketball defeats UNCW to win its first Division I conference championship. The squad goes on to clinch its first Division I conference tournament title and its first trip to the NCAA Tournament.

May 7, 2017 – In just its fourth season of competition, Elon women’s lacrosse receives an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.

June 10, 2017 – Elon junior Bryanna Hames competes as the first athlete from the women’s track and field team at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, earning honorable mention honors in the discus.

Aug. 28, 2018 – Elon volleyball plays the first collegiate athletic event at Schar Center, beating North Carolina A&T 3-0.

Oct. 6, 2018 – On the road against No. 2 and back-to-back national finalist James Madison, No. 9 Elon football defeated the Dukes 27-24 at Bridgeforth Stadium for its first win over a Top 5 program at the Division I level. The win snaps JMU’s CAA Football record of 22 consecutive wins against conference teams and 19 straight victories at home.

April 21, 2019 — Elon wins its first men’s tennis CAA championship, knocking off two-time defending champion UNCW.

Nov. 2, 2019 — Elon’s women’s cross country team wins its first CAA conference championship, led by individual meet winner Scholasticah Kemei.