Students gather in the University Center between classes. Over the last two years, UMBC’s freshman class size has increased by over 200 students. Photo from The Retriever archives.
“U Must Be Cinderella.” “All Bark and All Bite!” “Bracket Busters.” “UMBC Makes History.” Each of these slogans can frequently be seen on apparel worn by students around UMBC, and each slogan refers to the same event: the historic defeat of the University of Virginia, a number one seed, by our very own 16-seed UMBC Retrievers in the 2018 NCAA March Madness basketball tournament.
All UMBC students saw some outcomes of this event: merchandise logos, social media celebrations, countless newspaper articles and of course a massive welcome to the basketball team. But have they missed a much larger effect on the community?
According to Assistant Vice Provost Dale Bittinger, this year’s freshman class of 1,794 students is the largest in UMBC history. The first-year application pool was also the largest it has ever been, with 11,720 applicants. Why the sudden increase in interest? Could it be because of the excellent press that UMBC received after March Madness?
The simple answer is no. UMBC defeated UVA on March 16, over a month after the deadline for Regular Decision applicants. While the tournament had no effect on the number of applicants received by UMBC — that can likely be attributed to a spike in birth rate that occurred in 2000 (CDC.gov) — it is possible that the timing of the historic upset did influence students to commit to UMBC. Since it occurred in mid-March, before many of the Prospective Student Days occurred, the potential freshmen could have been “hooked” by the historic upset and then given plenty of other information and statistics about UMBC that caused them to commit.
“UMBC has a long-term, university-wide focus on inclusive excellence,” said Dinah Winnick, the Director of Communications for the Office of Institutional Advancement. “This can be seen in academic achievements across all disciplines, as well as the achievements of our scholar-athletes and other student groups.”
These student groups also gained more visibility due to the basketball team’s fame. The success of groups such as the Cyber Dawgs, Mock Trial and the Baja Racing Team were highlighted by UMBC’s PR team to prove the all-around excellence of UMBC; as journalist Dan Rather wrote on Twitter, “Whenever you hear, ‘we can’t,’ tell them UMBC.”
Another way that March Madness helped UMBC market itself was the #RetrieverNation hashtag. According to Winnick, that hashtag “provided a way for our whole community — including alumni all over the world — to be part of the moment together.” It exemplified the idea that UMBC is a supportive and inclusive community, and roped in fans that bought UMBC merchandise by the thousands.
Although this year’s massive freshman class cannot be directly attributed to the increased visibility following the UMBC defeat of UVA, it is undeniable that UMBC gained plenty of recognition that was not limited to basketball. March Madness gave UMBC a spot on the national stage, brought the existing UMBC community closer together and roped in new fans. And, due to the positive press brought in by the men’s basketball team, it is entirely possible that the upward trend in freshman class size may continue into next year, further widening the scope of #RetrieverNation.