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The Dartmouth
June 13, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

College releases enrollment expansion report

Roughly one month after the Board of Trustees announced that the College will not expand its student body, the Office of the President published the Enrollment Expansion Task Force Report. College President Phil Hanlon and the Board of Trustees commissioned the report last August to create a hypothetical implementation plan for increasing undergraduate enrollment by 10 to 25 percent, and to identify the opportunities and challenges that might come with such enrollment growth.

The 43-page report projects the additional physical and human capital requirements of the College, given an expanded undergraduate enrollment. The task force concluded that there were no significant economies of scale to be gained by expanding because increases in classroom capacity, program budgeting and student support needs would likely need to be proportional to any increases in enrollment. The report also details zero-growth needs — needs in the event of no enrollment expansion at the College.

The report’s final conclusion was that any expansion plans should follow a “clear and convincing” growth rationale, deeper consultation with academic departments, the creation of a Campus Master Plan that would detail the development of Dartmouth’s physical space and further investment in current Dartmouth operations.

While the task force was not charged with making a recommendation about whether or not to expand enrollment, Board of Trustees chair Laurel Richie ’81 wrote in a campus-wide email last month that after considering the task force’s findings, the Board approved Hanlon’s recommendation that the undergraduate student body remain at its current size. The Board’s regular updates from task force co-chairs dean of the College Rebecca Biron and dean of the faculty of arts and sciences Elizabeth Smith enabled the board to approve of Hanlon’s recommendation prior to the final task force report delivery, College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an email.

Recent fluctuating admission and yield rates have come at the same time as discussions of enrollment expansion — the report comes to the public just days after the College admitted its lowest number of students since the early 1990s for the Class of 2022. Last year, the College experienced its highest yield rate in 25 years for the Class of 2021, resulting in the re-designation of North Park graduate housing to undergraduates starting this past falland the proposal to create new residence halls in College Park this past October — a measure that over 1,600 students, professors, alumni and individuals connected to the College protested against. In February, Hanlon announced that it was beyond the College’s financial capacity to build College Park dormitories and that the College would instead explore smaller residence hall building projects.

Biron said that the yield rate for the Class of 2021, the acceptance rate for the Class of 2022 and proposals for the creation of College Park dormitories were separate from the task force on enrollment and were not impacted by the task force’s work. Biron also distinguished between unexpected and expected enrollment expansion, emphasizing that the yield rate for the Class of 2021 was unplanned. She said that one of the main takeaways of the report is that enrollment expansion requires years of planning.

Biological sciences professor Mark McPeek, one of five faculty members who were asked to be on the task force, said that another important contribution of the report is reaffirming the College’s pre-expansion needs.

“One of the things we’re really hoping comes out of this is that people will take seriously all of the things — that we put out in the report — that are still under-staffed and under-supported right now that we need to work on before we can even think about ... bringing in more people,” McPeek said.

In the report’s endnotes, the task force expands on the College’s current needs, including the need to modernize and expand existing classrooms, faculty offices and academic gathering spaces; maintain and renew residence halls; improve parking infrastructure; and increase service capacity for mental health and academic support services.

Biron said that the task force report did not reveal areas for improvement that the College was not already aware of, but agreed that it shows the need to strengthen current infrastructure before considering enrollment expansion.

According to the report, Princeton University, Rice University and Yale University have either already expanded their enrollments or expect to expand in forthcoming years, while Brandeis University, Brown University and Harvard University have decided not to expand their enrollments. Dartmouth’s size relative to other Ivy League institutions has long been a defining aspect of the College, according to the preliminary sections of the task force report.

However, according to Hanlon’s initial charge to the task force, enrollment scale is “one of five strategic questions” faced by the College. Considerations of expansion have been underpinned by motivations in mission — a desire to increase the number of undergraduates prepared by the College to “better the world” — as well as institutional prospects — the ability of the College to build a more diverse entering class with more students. The report also included strengthening the role of house communities and expanding off-campus programs as possible opportunities afforded by enrollment expansion.

The task force solicited input from Dartmouth community members about perceptions of potential enrollment expansion by sending a survey to 2,000 alumni and partnering with Alumni Council President Jack Steinberg ’88 to send an email to all Dartmouth alumni encouraging them to share their perspectives on the issue. The task force also reached out directly to academic department leaders, programs and centers and student support departments to inquire about perspectives on enrollment as well as specific resources needed to support expansion.

In a survey sent out by College Pulse on Nov. 6, 2017, 70 percent of the 987 students who responded said they would like to see the College stay the same in terms of size, while 20 percent said they would like to see a decrease in the enrollment size, rounded to the nearest one. According to Lawrence in an email statement, “community sentiment” was included in the task force’s report and was considered by Hanlon and the trustees as they made a final decision not to expand enrollment.

Lawrence wrote in an email that the College and its trustees, while not currently taking steps with enrollment expansion in mind, will routinely evaluate strategic considerations such as enrollment in the context of what is best for Dartmouth’s long-term interests.

“The current focus of the trustees and the College’s leadership is to enhance the quality of the Dartmouth experience,” she wrote in her email.

Recently, the trustees approved “exploratory” conceptual and design work and location-finding for a new 350-bed residential complex. This was accompanied by a capital budget of $51 million to expand spaces for research, teaching and learning, $14 million of which was designated for the expansion of the Thayer School of Engineering, according to a press release. The renovation of Dana Hall and the Blunt Alumni Center will also contribute to expanding academic office spaces. At the same time, the College announced a 3.9 percent increase in undergraduate tuition, mandatory fees and room and board fees for the 2018-19 academic year, consistent with an upwards trend for tuition charges.

The report stated that all standing committees of the faculty — as well as the Committee on Priorities, Committee on the Faculty, Committee on Organization and Policy, Committee on Instruction and Committee on Student Life — will review the task force report during the spring term and give a written response report to the Committee on Priorities. Furthermore, the report stated that Hanlon and the trustees will welcome town hall and community meeting requests from student groups, faculty, staff and alumni to discuss the content of the report.