Verbum Ultimum: Commit or Don’t

Dartmouth must either work towards building a larger student body — and the resources that support it — or keep the student body size small. It can’t do both.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/1/21 4:05am

verbum_ultimum

Last Thursday, an article published in The Dartmouth reported that the Class of 2025, with a class size of 1,229 students, is the largest in Dartmouth’s history. This revelation comes only four years after the previous record-holder for the largest class, the Class of 2021, matriculated, and is only the second time in Dartmouth’s history that the number of newly enrolled students has surpassed 1,200. 

While both of these classes might be dismissed as outliers, an analysis of the last five years of enrollment data from the Office of Institutional Research uncovers that, since the Classes of 2004–2020, which enrolled an average of 1,103 students, class size has grown by more than 6% to an average of 1,173 for the Classes of 2021–2025. Put another way, in just five years, the College has admitted the two largest classes ever, both composed of more than 1,200 students  — the Classes of 2021 and 2025 — in addition to admitting two classes — 2022 and 2023 — larger than any before the Class of 2021. If only one or two classes had been larger due to unpredictable yield rates, this could be dismissed as a statistical coincidence, but five years is a clear trend: It appears that in recent years, the College has decided to enroll more students than it has in the past. 

Although admitting more students to Dartmouth may not necessarily seem like a bad thing —  in 2018, College President Phil Hanlon stated that expansion of the student body would “amplify [Dartmouth’s] impact in the world,” a perfectly defensible claim — Dartmouth has not backed the larger student population with the required resources. As a result, the recent student experience has been riddled with unprecedented challenges, including a housing shortage that left many upperclassmen without housing and forced the College to convert lounges into dorm rooms, as well as unconscionably long lines at dining halls and COVID-19 testing sites. If Dartmouth is going to continue admitting more students, it must also expand its resources to accommodate a larger student body. Otherwise, the Dartmouth experience will continue to be beset by chaos and frustration.

The idea that admitting more students would require the expansion of resources and facilities is not new. In 2018, the College looked into the possibility of expanding class size between 10% to 25%. A 10% increase would require, according to the report, 66 new faculty, between 164 and 378 new course sections, nine new classrooms, around 400 new beds, a new house community and expansions of Courtyard Cafe and Collis Cafe. In the end, the College officially decided against expansion after the report found that they didn’t even have the necessary infrastructure to support the current student body — a decision this Editorial Board encouraged at the time.

It is puzzling, then, that the College has begun accepting unusually large classes of students anyway — despite the fact that they have data that predicted many of the challenges larger class sizes would cause. Moreover, many of the most pressing barriers to increasing enrollment have persisted. No new housing or classrooms have been built, for example, and course selection continues to be a problem of scarcity. Additionally, myriad administrative positions important to the operation of the College remain vacant or filled by interim staff, including the Provost, the Dean of the College, the director of the Office of Greek Life, the chaplain at the Tucker Center for Spiritual and Ethical Life and the director of the Native American Program. These vacancies would have presented challenges even if the College had not begun admitting more students.

In essence, the data suggests that despite Dartmouth’s decision to not expand enrollment, in part due to not having the requisite infrastructure to do so, the College has, slowly but surely, expanded enrollment anyway — all the while making few if any improvements necessary to support such a decision. The predictable end result of such a decision is a disappointed and frustrated student body that feels fed-up with and abandoned by the College. Dartmouth is already a rigorous institution, and their lack of accommodations for the inflated size of the student body places even more stress on the entire Dartmouth community. 

While we agree that admitting more students to Dartmouth will increase the school’s impact on the world, we doubt that anyone, including the College, wants the cost of doing so to be the gradual deterioration of the Dartmouth experience. The current half-baked decision to increase class sizes, but not resources, cannot continue. The College must make a choice: Either commit to expanding class size — and properly increase resources and facilities — or don’t.

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.

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