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MIT Cuts Size of Class of 2004 To Prepare for Housing Crunch

By Rima Arnaout

MIT decided last week to limit the freshman class of 2004 to one thousand students, in preparation for a housing crunch expected when all freshmen move on campus in 2001.

“We decided to keep the class size small this year as a way to address the crowding issue. Students have complained quite a bit about crowding, and we’re trying to be responsive,” said Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72.

“We’ve actually lost some housing capacity [with the] renovation of Baker House,” Bacow said, “and we’ve lost two fraternities in the past few years ... we certainly hope we will not lose more,” Bacow said. The closing of Phi Gamma Delta and Sigma Alpha Epsilon alone have taken 80 beds out of the housing system.

“It hurts to turn down people who are the best in the country because we don’t have space for them,” said Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones.

The fact that the deciding factor in the freshman class size this year is housing issue and not the ratio of faculty to students, for example, may point to a commitment on the administration’s part for improving the lives of students outside the classroom as well as academically.

MIT’s enrollment committee proposed three possible class sizes: 1,040, 1,020, and 1,000 students. MIT was expected to approve a 1020-student class, Jones said, but Deans Margaret R. Bates and Rosalind H. Williams argued for the smallest number because it provided the most space in the housing system. Bates and Williams could not be reached for comment.

To make the move towards a smaller class this year, MIT will offer admission to 1570 students, expecting 1000 to enroll. The admissions office will also to keep a large waiting list this year, Jones said.

For the past five years, the size of the freshman class has hovered around 1050 students.

Small classes may become the norm

According to Bacow and the Admissions Department, it’s not certain whether a 1,000-member class is going to become the norm for the foreseeable future or whether it’s just a stopgap measure to get MIT through the 2001 transition.

“I can’t say whether or not [a 1,000 student freshman class is] going to be a steady state,” Bacow said.

But because the new dorm to be built on Vassar Street is designed to alleviate already existing crowding, the housing crunch isn’t likely to disappear by the time the classes of 2005 and 2006 arrive on campus.

In addition, the new dorm’s construction may be held up past its summer 2001 scheduled completion date due to an appeal filed against the project’s permit.

Tuition to go up next year

When deciding the size of the freshman class, MIT administration must balance the quality of educational and residential life for students with the fact that a bigger class means more money for the Institute. “It’s a business issue and a quality of life issue,” Jones said.

It’s possible that smaller class may contribute to a proposed increase in tuition -- from $25,000 to about $26,050 a year -- that’s set to go before the MIT Corporation on March 3. Bacow is “not yet prepared to comment” about tuition hikes.

The decision to keep the class size low goes against what some of MIT’s peer institutions are doing. A trustee committee at Princeton University has recently elected to increase the undergraduate student body by 10 percent, from 4,600 to 5,100 members.

“Princeton has the capacity to provide its distinctive educational experience to a somewhat larger number of students, and therefore to make an even greater contribution to the society it serves,” said committee member President Harold T. Shapiro in a press release.

Faculty members have been a relatively new presence on MIT’s enrollment committee. The enrollment committee was created ten years ago and included only MIT administrators and businessmen, Jones said.

Faculty members became part of the committee three years ago, but this was the first year members of the Committee of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid were also consulted, Jones said.