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Dorm overcrowding worsens

First in a series on issues affecting housing and class size.

The rising number of upperclassmen returning to Institute houses will continue to contribute to crowding of undergraduates, according to Associate Dean for Student Affairs Robert A. Sherwood.

Many students desire on-campus housing this year, because rents in the Boston area are rising rapidly. All colleges in the area are experiencing dormitory crowding as a result, Sherwood said. "Everyone got taken by surprise."

The scarcity of affordable housing is likely to continue because little moderate-income housing is being built, he explained. "I would suspect we are in for a long haul."

Sherwood sees bleak picture

Crowding has a long-range effect, Sherwood pointed out, because a large class stays in the housing system for four years. If crowding is high one year, there is less room for incoming students the next year.

A "tolerable" crowding level would allow all crowded students to uncrowd in the spring term while maintaining full occupancy in the housing system, according to Sherwood. Approximately 65 undergraduates had left Institute housing during each school year in the past, he said. But the net decrease in occupancy this year was only 35, he added.

Sherwood expects the number of students leaving the dormitory system between terms to remain at the new, lower level, just as the number leaving during the summer has dropped. "I suspect the same thing [that caused students to remain last year] is happening," he said.

Sherwood has denied housing to over 60 undergraduates on the waiting list because of the crowding level. The waiting list includes 9th term undergraduates, readmitted students, fraternity upperclassmen desiring dormitory spaces and transfer students who were not among the 40 transfers given Institute housing in a lottery earlier this summer.

The Institute has no plans and no funding for more student housing, Sherwood said. MIT's current financial priorities are the endowment, financial aid and endowed professorships.

There is little possibility of alleviating the current crowding by reducing the class size because the administration is unwilling to face the consequent loss of tuition revenue, Sherwood said. As a result, he will ask for a review of the Institute's guarantee of eight terms of housing to undergraduates.

The policy will be examined by Sherwood, President Paul E. Gray '54, Dean for Student Affairs Shirley M. McBay, the dormitory housemasters and the Faculty Committee on Student Affairs, he continued.

Numbers overshot targets

The Office of the Dean for Student Affairs (ODSA) was not able to determine the actual number of upperclassmen returning to the dormitories this fall until confirmation cards were due on April 22.

The Admissions Office admits students from the waiting list in May. "We made it very clear to them" at that time that the number of returning upperclassmen overshot the projection, Sherwood said. Nevertheless, the Class of 1989 exceeded its targeted size of 1025 by 37 students.

Sherwood has suggested to MIT Vice President Constantine B. Simonides and Director of Admissions Michael C. Behnke that the Admissions Office review its procedures and attempt to control the class size more accurately.

The ODSA moved the cancellation date for dormitory assignments from August to July this year because it was "imperative to know" the number of returning upperclassmen, Sherwood said. Upperclassmen cancelling their assignments after this date were originally required to pay a fee of $100 plus $25 per business day.

Sherwood waived the late cancellation fee last week to encourage upperclassmen to leave the dormitory system.

Return rates underestimated

Sherwood estimates the number of dormitory spaces available in the fall for incoming students in December. He presents his predictions to the Academic Council, an administrative body composed of all MIT deans and vice presidents. The Academic Council sets the incoming class size.

The ODSA predicts the number of upperclassmen returning to the dormitories by assuming a percentage return rate for each class. The Dean's Office then multiplies this percentage by the number of students currently residing in Institute housing, according to Sherwood.

A return rate represents a comparison between the number of students in the dormitories this fall and last fall, Sherwood explained. It does not mean that the indicated percentage of students actually returned, he said, because some students enter the dormitory system during the school year.

Sherwood predicts the return rates by examining past return rates and current trends in off-campus housing prices. He generally assumes that each year's return rates will be about the same as they were the year before.

Last year, he predicted return rates of 97 percent for seniors, 91 percent for juniors and 93 percent for sophomores this year. These figures were slightly above last year's results, when these classes had return rates of 97 percent, 90 percent and 92 percent, respectively. The fall 1978 return rate for seniors was only 83 percent.

Sherwood projected 1981 upperclassmen would claim dormitory spaces based upon these estimates. As of last week, 2049 upperclassmen had confirmed their intention to reside in Institute housing this year.