Verbum Ultimum: Breathing Room for Housing

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/17/13 10:00pm

With winter housing applications for upperclassmen due next Tuesday, we are reminded again of the challenges associated with Dartmouth's residential life. Beyond the wide variance in dorm quality, the biggest complaint associated with campus housing is the constant reshuffling mandated by the D-Plan. Yet it is difficult to improve housing stock, much less permit dorm continuity, given the pressure put on the housing system by undergraduate enrollment during fall term and, to a lesser extent, during spring term. To create breathing room for potentially substantial changes to the College's residences, the administration should consider ways to more evenly distribute students across fall, winter and spring terms. Specifically, it should give funding preferences to new foreign study programs that will be held during fall and shift some existing programs to the fall from the winter and spring.

Based on the College Fact Book, 3,976 out of 4,193 total undergraduate students were enrolled and in Hanover last fall. This appears to be the rule rather than an exception nearly every enrolled student has chosen to be on campus in each of the six falls for which the College has published data. Anecdotally, we know that vastly fewer students enroll for the winter, whether to skip the New Hampshire winter, study abroad, pursue an internship or some combination thereof. This means that during a given winter, Dartmouth might be missing up to a quarter of its students. While the College cannot control employers' hiring schedules for internships, it could do more to smooth out enrollment patterns by offering more options for getting off campus during the fall.

Though a wide range of fall off-campus programs are available, we suspect that they are not meeting the depth of student demand. Among some of the most popular majors economics, government, history, engineering sciences, biology, English and mathematics the formal foreign study offerings are often incredibly selective and capped at 16 or 17 students, sometimes fewer. So even though programs in these departments are conducted during the fall, they probably only account for about 50 students per year. Those who are not admitted to these programs then have the choice of staying on campus or trying to find an off-cycle internship. At that point, the decision to enroll for the fall is a no-brainer.

To both address this lack of access and make room for more residential initiatives, the College should prioritize the addition of new FSPs and LSAs in the fall as it allocates Frank Guarini '46's $10 million donation for new off-campus programs. Moreover, it should gradually change the overall menu of existing off-campus programs to be more biased toward the fall. This could go a long way toward freeing up resources to improve students' quality of life in Hanover.

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