Population frustrations

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February 26, 2010

12:27 AM

With millions in federal stimulus dollars drying up next year, a massive budgetary crisis is upon us. This week, the Faculty Assembly suggested the College of William and Mary should increase the size of its incoming classes by 50 students in order to increase revenue and temper the imminent program cuts. While increasing enrollment at a university that prides itself on its small-school character is a very worrisome step, at this point we cannot avoid taking it.

The reasons for increasing enrollment are simple. The College can redirect every dollar it collects in tuition toward otherwise vulnerable programs, like smaller departments and diversity initiatives. Fifty more tuition-paying students may not seem like much, but collectively they add up to almost a million dollars in additional revenue, at minimal extra cost to the College. That goes a long way toward patching up a $6 million hole.

But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If this were to happen, students would wind up bearing the brunt of this change in the form of increased class sizes and difficulty enrolling into sought-after General Education Requirement classes and labs. And their diplomas would be worth less; by definition, the College will be becoming less selective if it enacts this change.

Even with the drawbacks, the College will be in a better place if it increases enrollment. The proposed increase, which is less than 1 percent of the entering class, appears carefully sized in order to soften its impact. And temporarily raising the size limitation on GER classes for a year or three will not cause permanent damage to the College in the same way that eliminating faculty or programs will.

There are even some residual benefits of having a slightly larger school. If this passes, the Career Center will be able to draw bigger and better employers to the College’s slightly larger market.

The simple truth is that the money will have to come from somewhere.

Whether that means having fewer faculty members, fewer programs or services, or more students and a marginally deteriorated educational product, none of the options look good.

To make things tangible, consider this quote from Faculty Assembly President and physics professor Gene Tracy: “We’re going to fall off a cliff in a year, unless we figure out ways to increase revenue. We may even have to suspend the freshman seminar program until we’re back on solid footing.”

The freshman seminar program is one of many hallmarks of the College experience that stand vulnerable to cuts. We should fight to protect programs like these — even if that means waking up a little bit earlier to fight for classes on Banner.

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