The record-breaking size of the 2006 freshman class presents a formidable challenge for the University. With 6,115 freshmen enrolled – 755 more than expected – the University is already witnessing tangible decreases in quality of life and living conditions for its students. Overcrowded dorms, growing class sizes and a chaotic bus system are all symptoms of an overpopulated campus, a problem detrimental to both incoming and current students. The University cannot continue to outstrip enrollment targets without making the appropriate accommodations to its academic infrastructure and residence facilities. If the University is going to continue to grow as one of the nation’s leading institutions of higher education, it has to build accordingly.
While overshooting enrollment to bring in more tuition money might seem viable as a fundraising strategy, an overcrowded campus could ultimately erode the national-caliber educational environment University applicants have come to demand. The University attracts out-of-state students in high numbers because of its prestigious reputation. As class sizes increase, learning becomes generic, with students receiving less personal attention and more generalized course work. Adding to that, already-overcrowded dorms will continue to discourage students in search of a positive, comfortable living environment. As the quality of life at the University continues to deteriorate, application rates will drop, reducing revenue for the University in the long term.
If in fact overshooting enrollment was a mistake – as the University maintains it was – there are a number of options administrators can consider to prevent it from happening for a third year in a row. If the University wants to keep enrollment levels flat, it could explore raising admissions standards to reflect a smaller, more selective student body. The University could also end its rolling admissions policy and set a definitive application deadline so that the Office of Admissions can better gauge the size of the applicant pool before accepting students.
Regardless of why the class is so large, its record-breaking size brings to light the pressing need to develop infrastructure with the capacity to accommodate a growing student body. Though the campus population has increased dramatically, the University hasn’t built a new dorm in decades; its on-campus residence hall capacity is virtually the same as it was 40 years ago. For the past two years, the University has placed overflow freshmen in North Campus residence halls, making life unnecessarily difficult for freshmen who attend the majority of their classes on Central Campus. The most recent development plan calls for a new super-cafeteria on the Hill, and will actually decrease Central Campus dorm space in the construction process. The new North Quad residence hall will end the University’s dorm-construction hiatus, but it will not generate a significant net increase in capacity. Faced with a glut of students and little room to house them, administrators are finding it increasingly difficult to evade the painfully obvious (though financially costly) solution – new dorms.
However the University chooses to manage its enrollment predicament, students must remain its first priority. Extra tuition money in the short term will be little consolation for an all but inevitable blow to the University’s academic reputation. To maintain its standing – both in the classroom and on campus – the University’s enrollment policy and infrastructure investments must reflect the troubling realities of an overcrowded campus.