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Vision: birth of a college town

By Kelly Griffith
Sr. Staff Writer

Imagine driving into Pembroke as the dog days of summer come to a close.           

You find quaint bookstores and coffee shops bustling with UNCP students buying textbooks, getting their caffeine fix and preparing for the big game on Saturday.            

Shop windows are decorated with black and gold signs and streamers honoring the football home opener.

A rider pedals into a bicycle shop passing other students lined up to buy movie tickets down the street.           

Pembroke would no longer be the sleepy town it once was.

An outside view

Today, it's anything but a bustling college town, although it could be. Dr. Blake Gumprecht, a geography professor at the University of New Hampshire who writes about college towns and their makeup, said he believes Pembroke already contains aspects of a college town.            

"If you look at some basic measures, things you can find out from a distance, then it would seem that Pembroke would qualify in terms of ratio of enrollment at the university to total population of the town," Gumprecht said.

College towns have coffee shops, bookstores, bicycle shops and lots of other retailers. Pembroke could, too, if visionaries have their way.

Photo by Terri Rorke
College towns have coffee shops, bookstores, bicycle shops and lots of other retailers.  Pembroke could, too, if visionaries have their way.

Fitting the model

College towns are youthful places, Gumprecht said. The 2000 Census said the median age for Pembroke residents is 27.3 years old.            

The income of town residents should be high, he said.

Pembroke residents accumulate $21,218 annually within a family and the national median family income stood at $50,890 in 2000, according to the Census.            

A diverse population is key in a college town, Gumprecht said. Although UNCP prides itself on its diversity of students, that hasn't overflowed into the town of Pembroke.            

According to the Census, American Indians make up 81.7 percent of town residents. White, Black, Asian, Oriental and mixed races compose the other 18.3 percent.

"Some of what you may be noticing to be things where Pembroke doesn't fit my model, have to do with the peculiarities of the local situation," Gumprecht said.

Exceptions to the rule            

He said there are some exceptions to the rule.

"College town characteristics tend to be more muted in such places," Gumprecht said of regional universities like UNCP.            

He said diversity tends to be lower when the majority of students come from the surrounding town and adjacent counties.             "When people live that close,  when the house they grew up in is that close to the school, people are much more likely, if they don't live in Pembroke, to go home on the weekends," Gumprecht said.

"They're not as anchored in the place as somebody coming from further away is. Some unusual circumstances – UNCP's American Indian history – makes the surrounding college town very unique, Gumprecht said.            

"The fact that such a large percentage of the student body is still American Indian and that such a large percentage of the residents in Pembroke are American Indian, makes your situation somewhat anomalous to pretty much anywhere," Gumprecht said.            

Many commuter students make UNCP more like an urban commuting university, he said. It reflects the unusual situation in Pembroke's town and university community.

Most universities grew in size during the 1950s and 60s, Gumprecht said. UNCP, however, has almost tripled its enrollment in the last 20 years.            

"There's always a bit of a lag, I think, in how a town is transformed to reflect those changes," Gumprecht said.

"There was more time to adjust to the changes that were taking place. You're in the midst of a lot of growth," he said.            
He said the town's business mix may not currently imitate the student body's growth, but within 15 years, it is possible that companies will move into Pembroke.

Braves drink here            

The lack of bars in Pembroke quiets the college town feeling, Gumprecht said.            

The liquor law for Pembroke allows for ABC and grocery stores to sell alcohol. Restaurants cannot sell it by the drink.

"If that law were eliminated, I guarantee you by next fall semester, there would be bars," he said.                        

"There are students and comparatively students like to drink," he said.

Laying down the law

Mark Schwarze, coordinator of the Coalition to Prevent Alcohol Related Consequences, a program set up to reduce underage and high-risk drinking, said he believes UNCP has a better chance of cutting the number of underage drinkers on campus because Pembroke doesn’t allow bars.            

He said college towns with bars have much higher rates of underage and high-risk drinking.

A traditional college town

Pembroke Councilman Greg Cummings said he believes Pembroke is a traditional college town and has grown sufficiently to meet the needs of students and locals.            

"The university has played a major role in the Chamber of Commerce, and in the growth of the town of Pembroke," Cummings said. "The major franchises like Wal-Mart and McDonald's are here because the growth the town has experienced, thanks to the university."

Dr. Robert W. Reising, professor of Native American literature and English, and former Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. James B. Chavis, are part of the Town Gown Committee with Cummings. The committee was set up to improve the relationship between Pembroke and UNCP.

Molding the town            

College towns should be molded around the type of university within them, according to Gumprecht.

"The distinctly American notion that college should be a total experience and not limited to the classroom has also shaped the evolution of U.S. campuses," he said.           

However, Gumprecht said despite UNCP's enormous growth, he doesn't think the college town will be comparable to the state's flagship school.

"I don't think Pembroke is ever going to be a Chapel Hill," he said.

A new vision           

Gumprecht said a college town would not only add to the college life experience, but also to UNCP students' academic growth.

"They become more connected to the school. They go to the library on Sunday night," Gumprecht said. "People are integrating their academic life with their out-of-school life and that's good from an educational standpoint."

Nicole McCorkle, Sha'Lace Gregg and Kelani Coakley contributed to this article.

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The University of North Carolina at Pembroke The print edition of The Pine Needle
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Updated: Monday, November 6, 2006
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