Task force to evaluate student body size

by Mika Jehoon Lee | 9/15/17 2:10am

College President Phil Hanlon has enlisted a task force with examining the advantages and challenges of increasing the College’s undergraduate body by 10 to 25 percent.

Dean of the College Rebecca Biron said the task force has had two meetings. It is scheduled to present an initial report to Hanlon, provost Carolyn Dever and executive vice president Richard Mills by the end of October and a final report in mid-March.

According to Biron, the task force will develop a “hypothetical implementation plan” that will address different resources needed to accommodate more students, the impact of a larger student body on the quality of education at Dartmouth and whether enrollment growth can be revenue-neutral. Last fall in his annual address to the faculty of arts and sciences, Hanlon said exploring enrollment growth is a strategic issue that the College is facing.

The task force will communicate with and examine peer institutions who have seen increases in their enrollment. Additionally, the task force plans to incorporate feedback from students, alumni, faculty members and local businesses into the implementation plan, Biron added.

“We need information about student-faculty ratio, classroom space, housing, student support among many other things and effects [of increased enrollment] on dining, health service and everything that supports undergraduates here, so we are collecting data on all these areas,” Biron said.

The eight-person task force is co-chaired by Biron and dean of faculty of arts and sciences Elizabeth Smith. Economics professor James Feyrer, biology professor Mark McPeek, religion professor Reiko Ohnuma, mathematics professor Scott Pauls, comparative literature and French professor Andrea Tarnowski and member of the Board of Trustees Dave Hodgson ’78 are the other members.

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an email statement that an enrollment increase in the 10 to 25 percent range would be in line with the recent growth in faculty members at the College. According to Lawrence, the number of faculty in the arts and sciences has increased by 22 percent since 2001 with a corresponding increase of only 5 percent in undergraduate enrollment. In the future, Lawrence said the College anticipates growing the faculty by another 10 percent through fundraising efforts, expanding the computer science department and engineering program as well as adding positions in the faculty clusters and the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society.

Lawrence said the proposed enrollment growth at the College would be in line with that at peer institutions.

Yale University announced last year that it will increase its undergraduate body by 200 students every year in the next four years, while the Board of Trustees at Princeton University developed a strategic framework that would raise the number of its undergraduates from 5,200 to 5,700 students over four years. With 4,310 students, Dartmouth has the smallest undergraduate student body in the Ivy League.

Some students have had mixed reactions to the College’s possible increase in enrollment. John Rossi ’20 said a reasonable and gradual expansion would be beneficial in the long term because it will increase diversity on campus and expand Dartmouth’s influence in the rest of the world.

Joshua Perlmutter ’20 said another benefit of increased enrollment would be the provision of additional housing, but he believes there are significant drawbacks as well.

“One of the reasons I chose Dartmouth was that it was a small college — they call it ‘Dartmouth College’ and not ‘Dartmouth University’ because the school prioritizes individualized attention on students,” Perlmutter said. “But if the only option they have to solve the housing crisis is to add more students, I wouldn’t be super upset about that.”

Sarah Chong ’21 said she would be concerned about the enrollment growth potentially decreasing opportunities for students to build strong relationships with faculty members.

“One of the defining factors that led me to choose Dartmouth was that professors here seemed to really care about students,” Chong said. “I don’t know if programs like Take a Faculty Member to Lunch Program would be possible if the student-to-faculty ratio increases.”

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