“If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” This popular business saying refers to corporate strategy: As long as you have the resources to expand, you should try to do so. The University of Chicago is certainly following this maxim. As application numbers have swelled and tuitions have risen, the number of College students has risen as well. Since 2005, the number of students in the College has increased by about one thousand, from 4,667 to 5,662 students. Annual higher-than-expected yields and large applicant pools indicate that there is ample potential for even more growth. The University could continue to expand the student body without compromising on student quality.
However, the University is not a business whose only goal is to increase profit. Though the University must remain conscious of the market, it should strive to retain what makes a UChicago education a UChicago education. This character will be threatened if the University continues to admit larger and larger classes. Instead, it should consider maintaining the size of the student population instead of allowing it to increase, as a larger population could lead to space problems, less attention paid to undergrads, and a change in the character of the undergraduate experience. A reduction in the admission rate could stop the string of larger and larger entering classes that keep surprising the University.
The University is already having difficulty housing the increased numbers of undergraduates. Rising incoming class sizes have necessitated the creation of new houses (Midway, Phoenix, and Booth) in New Graduate Residence Hall and in I-House. These residence halls will be inundated with many more students when Pierce closes next year. Short of incentivizing upperclassmen to leave the dorms, which would work against the University’s desire to increase the number of third-and fourth-years living on campus, the Office of Undergraduate Student Housing is going to have to scramble to find places for new students.
We have already seen a marked change in house size within the dorms. Small houses are being combined, and the houses in larger dorms like South commonly have over 100 people. That way, the University has to hire fewer Resident Heads (RH). This results in less personal attention within the dorms, and houses with a lesser sense of community. How can an RH get to know and understand the problems of students if there are so many of them? How can a house feel cohesive if students don’t know each other’s names?
Space in academic classes could also become more of a problem. Unless the University increases the number of courses and professors, class sizes will increase. Though the University will most likely try to preserve small Core classes because they increase our ranking in U.S. News and World Report, non-Core classes will suffer. It will also mean more classes per professor, more students per advisor, more people who need to be treated by Student Health Services (which is already incapable of handling student needs), more students using the dining hall…and the list goes on and on. Certainly new students will also bring tuition with them, but do they bring enough to finance the infrastructural changes that would be necessary to accommodate their presence?
Finally, a small, high-quality college population represents a certain commitment to undergraduate education. Schools known for focusing on their undergraduates, like UChicago and Yale, tend to have fewer of them. The liberal arts colleges have long operated on this model. With fewer students, professors are more accessible, and a degree of intellectual intimacy is preserved. Though UChicago undergrads usually benefit from being at a prestigious university, the feeling of being at a small college, of recognizing people on the quads, of being in small seminar classes, should be preserved.
When these concerns have been raised in the past, the admissions office has cited its surprise at the high yields that the University has attained. Now is the time for admissions officers to recognize that the yield will likely increase again and account for that in deciding how many people to admit. A decreased admissions rate, with the opportunity to pull students from the waitlist if the yield is unexpectedly low, would allow the University to control the number of incoming students.
Maya Fraser is a third-year in the College majoring in sociology.