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No accurate prediction fo class size possible


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

Inaccurate predictions of class size and dormitory spaces by the Admissions Office and the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs (ODSA) resulted in an unexpectedly high level of dormitory crowding this fall.

These projections' accuracy cannot be improved significantly, because the timetable of the admissions process requires them to be made far in advance, and because privacy considerations make some information unavailable to MIT.

MIT is also affected by variations in the off-campus housing market, which it cannot influence directly. For example, rising rents in the Boston area have caused more students to remain on campus.

MIT faces three courses of action. It could revoke the guarantee of eight terms of housing for undergraduates, build new housing, or reduce the incoming class size.

President Paul E. Gray '54 recently recommended the third alternative.

Several factors combined

A combination of fewer spaces and more freshmen than foreseen led to the near-record crowding of approximately 500 students.

The prediction by Associate Dean for Student Affairs Robert A. Sherwood of the number of upperclassmen returning to the dormitories was too low by almost 60 students. The Academic Council used his projection in setting the size of the Class of 1989.

More offers of admission to students on the waiting list were accepted than the Admissions Office anticipated, and fewer students than expected withdrew from MIT before enrolling. Consequently, the Class of 1989 exceeds its targeted size of 1025 by over 30 students.

Predictions inherently uncertain

Both the ODSA and the Admissions Office must make predictions representing thousands of independent decisions by students.

The number of returning upperclassmen must be projected in January so that the class size can be set in time for the Admissions Office to process applications.

The accuracy of the ODSA predictions is impeded because it must make them far in advance. But January is sometimes too early to foresee factors affecting students' decisions. This year's rapid rise in area rents began in the spring, after the class size target had been set.

Respect for applicants' privacy hinders predictions by the Admissions Office. The office does not ask where else candidates have applied, nor where they have been accepted.

The response of students admitted from the waiting list cannot be estimated accurately without knowing their plans at the time they receive their acceptance. The summer withdrawal rate depends heavily on the number of students accepted from other schools' waiting lists who then decide to attend those schools. This information is also not available to MIT.

Little room for adjustment

The Admissions Office maintains the waiting list as a means of adjusting the class size. If the "yield" of admitted students who decide to attend MIT is different from its anticipated value, the office compensates by admitting more or fewer students from the waiting list.

Yet this year, the unexpectedly large yield from the waiting list was a major cause of the larger-than-intended class size.

Admission of students on the waiting list is the last action that the Admissions Office controls. Hence the office cannot compensate for an unexpected response from the waiting list. If the office made more use of the waiting list, the uncertainty in the class size would therefore be magnified.

"Rolling" admissions has been suggested as another means of compensation for fluctuations in yield. Some groups of students could be admitted earlier than others, and further groups would be admitted after the yield from the first group is determined.

MIT cannot know the yield from the students admitted in March until May 1, the "candidate's reply date" for nearly all colleges in the country, and it cannot make offers of admission after June 30 because of an agreement with the Consortium on Financing Higher Education. Hence the Admissions Office has only two months to work with the waiting list, and it would be difficult to have more than one or two rounds of admission from the waiting list in two months.

Shrinking class only solution

Since the ODSA and the Admissions Office cannot guarantee the accuracy of their predictions, the only way to prevent overcrowding is to leave a margin of error by admitting a smaller class.

Director of Admissions Michael C. Behnke has said he will aim for a lower number than the official target, because Gray has directed him not to exceed the target.