One of the College’s responses to the mounting financial crisis could be to increase the size of each entering class by a modest amount, according to President Schapiro’s all-campus e-mail last Saturday.
Although nothing has been formally decided, Richard Nesbitt, director of Admission, said that the College is considering this possibility seriously. The increase in class size under discussion is rather small, adding up to 15 to 20 students per incoming class in the coming years. Currently, there are about 540 students enrolled in each class.
If the Admission Office decides to proceed and admit more students this year, it will not increase class size by 20 students immediately, choosing a much smaller number. “We would monitor to see how it worked before deciding whether to do it for more than a year,” President Schapiro said.
An increase, however, of 20 students, of whom 50 percent would receive some sort of financial aid, would generate approximately $600,000 in revenue.
The College has the capacity to house these additional students through the conversion of singles into doubles. “This is a number of students that will make a financial impact, but will not dramatically affect life on campus,” he said.
An addition of 15 to 20 students would raise the student-faculty ratio from 7:1 to 8:1. “I think in better economic times there would be interest in moving it back to 7:1,” Nesbitt said. “Presumably that would be accomplished by adding faculty, rather than reducing the incoming class numbers back to the current levels, but that’s always an option.”
Some are worried that increasing class size at all will detract from the values of having a small student body. Stephen Sheppard, chair of the economics department, noted that some departments already struggle to maintain intimate class sizes. “A quintessential part of a Williams education is small classes, and the economics department already has a relatively large ratio of students to faculty,” he said.
The administration and the Office of Admission had been considering such an increase even prior to the financial crisis. “We were thinking about doing this anyway given all the remarkable applicants we are forced to turn down, and the fact that we have some excess capacity on campus in terms of beds,” Schapiro said.
The fact that this plan is being considered in light of financial concerns does not, however, mean that the College is looking for students who will be able to pay full tuition. In keeping with Schapiro’s assurance that the College will maintain financial aid programs, Nesbitt stressed that expanding enrollment for financial reasons will not affect the College’s need-blind policy.
Nesbitt views this potential increase in class size as a positive opportunity that exceeds just the financial benefits. He discussed the advantages of being able to accept additional prospective students from what has traditionally been an extremely competitive applicant pool. “There are so many strong students that being able to accept more cannot be a bad thing,” he said.