Gaining the freshman 50

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November 12, 2010

12:03 AM

Adding 50 students to the next class of the College of William and Mary entry class could have serious implications for finances, academics and student life at the College, according to Thursday’s open forum on student body size.

Although Provost Michael Halleran was quick to assure the audience that no imminent decision has been made, he began the meeting by noting that the College’s student body size has tripled since 1960, consistent with nationwide trends in numbers of college-bound students.

Halleran said that the question of increasing class size by 50 more students has been considered.

“If we’re going to grow — underline and underscore ‘if’ — lets think about it, let’s do it intentionally, let’s do it strategically,” Halleran said.

Business professor Todd Mooradian followed Halleran to the podium and said that, if the College decided to expand, it would not be for financial reasons alone.

“We’re staying away from growth for growth’s sake. That’s the philosophy of a cancer cell,” Mooradian said.

The Committee on Student Body Size was divided into subgroups on academics, student life, admissions and finance, and each group briefly presented its findings.

Economics professor Berhanu Abegaz, head of the academic subcommittee, initiated the presentation section of the meeting with a list of statistics about the College’s current academic status.

“These numbers are back of the envelope — very tentative — but they are sobering considerations,” he said.

Abegaz said that the College of Arts and Sciences has absorbed an additional 300 students in the past three years, but has simultaneously suffered budget cuts totaling $1 million.

Additionally, the exchange program with the University of St. Andrews in Scotland has added another 20 students into the system, further increasing class size and pressure on registration.

To accommodate an additional 50 students, the College would need to supply three more science labs, at least three freshman seminars and potentially hire four more professors, options which would all require a significant increase in revenue.

“I would like to underscore the importance of planning for growth and of Arts and Sciences getting its fair share of any additional revenue,” Abegaz said.

Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88 Ph.D. ’06 then shifted the discussion to student life. She noted that an immediate and obvious concern of students would be parking, but that the issue of student housing would have the broadest implications.

“We’re already trying to make amends for lack of housing as is,” Ambler said.

Ambler reported that, this past year, 350-400 more students paid housing deposits, entering them into the housing lottery, than in previous years. Beyond that, there are approximately 150 re-admitted students and 260-270 transfer students admitted each year.

Currently, 50 beds in on-campus housing are allotted for transfer students. Ambler mentioned the Tribe Square housing project currently under construction on Richmond Road, but noted that it will produce only 56 more beds for on-campus living.

According to Ambler, certain student services, including dining services and the College’s bookstore, would not be seriously affected by increased student body size. However, added pressure on the Career Center and health services could affect student life significantly.

“We may have to add a physician to the health center,” Ambler said. “Or, students may have to wait a little longer to be seen.”

Dean of Admissions Henry Broaddus focused on the effect of a larger student body size on the College’s outward image, regardless of the quality of the applicant pool.

“How does it affect our perceived selectivity?” Broaddus asked. “There could be an illusion of decline, based — erroneously enough — on the perception that we are less selective. It could diminish our competitive position in the hearts and minds of potential students.”

Sam Jones ’75 MBA ’80 ended the presentation with a brief summary on the financial aspects of admitting more students. Jones outlined the revenue flow 50 more students would bring, concluding that after expenses, the net revenue would amount to no more than $250,000.

“This is really not about budget,” he said. “It’s certainly politics and the culture of the institution that we’re considering.”

Once the floor was opened to questions, a number of faculty and students were quick to remark on the issue.

Physics professor Bill Cooke related his own experience with his son, a freshman at the College, and the difficulty his son experienced while trying to gett into a variety of liberal arts classes during registration.

“I’m concerned we might be losing what we think we’ve got here already,” Cooke said.

McVeigh said the two worst times of the year for students at the College are registration days and the day they find out their housing number. More students, McVeigh said, would only add to this pressure.
Chemistry professor David Kranbuehl expressed concern about the long-term quality of the institution.

“The dorm needs to be built, the labs need to be built before the first 50 come in, or else we are jeopardizing the quality of the College,” he said.

Other students and faculty urged the committee to focus on existing issues at the College, such as environmental sustainability initiatives, the diminishing quality of existing facilities and recent suicides among students.

“The issue of human sustainability should be a very high priority,” English professor Joanne Braxton said. “I hope we can continue to discuss this.”

Halleran emphasized that no decisions would be made in the near future, and contrary to previous reports the Board of Visitors will not be voting on the issue in their Dec. 3 meeting.

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