In his recent State of the University letter, University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 reaffirmed the University’s intent to expand the size of the undergraduate student body with the hope of “grow[ing] enrollment while maintaining the distinctive character of a Princeton education.” We appreciate the University’s effort to offer the Princeton experience to a greater number of qualified applicants, and we do not oppose the expansion of the student body; however, we urge the University to keep in mind a number of considerations while planning for the expansion. Specifically, the University should take special note of the capacity of upperclassmen residential and dining options, the location of the new residential college, and the effect of student body expansion on the availability of University resources. Such careful planning will ensure a larger Princeton retains the unique qualities that make it “the best damn place of all.”
Expanding the student body will affect many aspects of the Princeton student experience. For instance, increasing the size of the student body could present problems for the University’s dining system. A new residential college can feed additional students during their underclassmen years, but the eating clubs — which feed the vast majority of upperclassmen students — may not be equipped to absorb the additional students when they become upperclassmen. Moreover, the bicker process will naturally become more selective, exacerbating concerns about social exclusivity. This provides even more reason for the University to implement our past recommendations to better support the sign-in eating clubs.
The University’s ability to accommodate additional students in the residential system is another area of concern. While the construction of a new residential college will provide living and dining space for additional students in their freshmen and sophomore years, it does not necessarily ensure that there will be space for those students in their junior and senior years. The University should construct more upperclassman housing and make the new residential college a four-year living community in the mold of Whitman in order to continue to offer a diverse set of living options for upperclassmen in an expanded student body.
The location of any new residential college is itself an important consideration in expanding the student body. One of the most special aspects of the Princeton experience is our close-knit community, which is fostered in large part by students living in close geographic proximity to each other. We believe it is essential to maintaining Princeton’s positive residential life that undergraduates not be isolated far from their peers or forced to take buses to get to central campus, as is necessary at some other institutions. Fortunately, Eisgruber has maintained that the new residential college will be built on “traditional campus” land, north of Lake Carnegie and east of the Springdale Golf Course. We support those limitations, and we further suggest that the new residential college be located west of Washington Road to ensure that students in the new college remain a part of Princeton’s main campus.
Some University resources, like McCosh Health Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, and University Health Services more broadly, are already strained with the current student population size. We have previously advocated for an expansion in CPS programming. Increasing the number of students on campus would further tax these resources. We urge the University to prudently consider the increase in resources required to meet student needs in these areas, as Eisgruber highlighted in his letter.
Perhaps most importantly, the University must consider the effect that expanding the student body has on the availability and efficacy of academic resources. Princeton rightfully prides itself on its commitment to undergraduate education and the accessibility of faculty members. This is demonstrated in the University’s 5:1 student to faculty ratio and its robust academic advising system, which pairs undergraduates with faculty members for academic support. To maintain the strength of our undergraduate academic programs, the University should consider expanding the faculty to an extent commensurate with the expansion in the undergraduate student body. This is particularly pertinent due to Princeton’s emphasis on junior and senior independent work, both of which require advisors. Similarly, the University should consider an expansion in the graduate student program to maintain the necessary ratio of preceptors and teaching assistants for undergraduate courses.
The Board again commends Eisgruber’s commitment to expanding the undergraduate student body in order to offer the Princeton experience to a greater number of deserving applicants. But, even more so, we hope that the University will take into account the many aspects of undergraduate life that this expansion will impact, whether it be the residential and dining systems, the location of residential colleges, or the availability of health and academic resources. These factors, among others, are critical to maintaining what Eisgruber calls “the distinctive character of a Princeton education.”
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