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Princeton University Will Add One More Residential College, Expand Undergraduate and Graduate Student Body

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Princeton University will add 500 more students to the undergraduate student body, and build a seventh residential college to house them and make space for future increases in the student population.

The board of trustees for the University met last week and authorized the administration to begin planning for 125 more undergraduate students per class, for a total of 500 more undergraduate students, “with the expectation that over time it is likely that there will
be an additional increase in the number of undergraduates and housing to accommodate
them.”

A report released this week details the framework for the strategic planning process as the school sets its course for the next decade and beyond.

“The board believes that Princeton should expand the size of the incoming undergraduate class
if the University can do so in a way that preserves the distinctive character and value of the Princeton experience. The University’s recent experience suggests that such an expansion is indeed possible,” reads the report. “This expansion, like the one completed in the last decade, would require resources from gifts, the endowment, and tuition revenue.”

In many departments and programs, the needed faculty members for the expansion are already in place, according to the document.

“Princeton’s faculty and graduate student body grow incrementally as the University enters new fields of research and scholarship,” reads the report. “Periodic increases to the undergraduate class are therefore entirely consistent with the goal of preserving the University’s distinctive character and commitment to undergraduate teaching; absent such expansion, the University would over time become more heavily focused on research and graduate education.”

The report emphasizes keeping a longer-term perspective in mind.

“It will encourage careful thinking about when and how to move toward a further increase in the
University’s capacity to provide a Princeton education to many more qualified applicants
(while still preserving the exceptional quality of the undergraduate experience),” reads the report. “It will enable the University to plan more strategically for both the near-term and the later expansion, including with regard to the location of undergraduate dormitories, residential colleges, and the composition of the expanded class; and it will allow the University more flexibility to improve existing residential facilities while it adds new ones.”

Princeton University will reinstate a small transfer admissions program in order to increase the school’s diversity, according to the report. The board of trustees approved the transfer program. Princeton has not accepted transfer students since 1990.

“Experience at other universities shows that transfer programs can provide a vehicle
to attract students with diverse backgrounds and experiences, such as qualified military veterans and students from low-income backgrounds, including some who might begin their careers at community colleges,” reads the report.

The board devoted special attention during the strategic planning process to the
size and anticipated growth rate for the Graduate School, according to the report. Princeton’s Graduate School has traditionally been smaller than the graduate schools of other outstanding research universities, and Princeton does not have the large professional schools that exist at some other Ivy League schools. Princeton has fewer doctoral candidates per faculty member than its peers.

The relatively small size of the University’s graduate student population puts some pressure on academic departments, especially engineering and the natural sciences, where faculty members depend on graduate students as research collaborators, according to the report. The board concluded that the University should maintain a smaller graduate student body than other universities on a per faculty member basis, but that Princeton should expect “incremental growth in the size of the graduate student body from two sources.”

The University will need to add graduate students as it adds faculty members and expands into new areas of scholarship and research. In some cases the school will also respond to competitive pressures, affecting the number of graduate students per faculty member. Future growth rates will depend on a variety of factors, but school officials cited past experience as a very rough guide, saying the entering group of doctoral students at the school has grown by less than 10 percent over the past 15 years.

The University will also focus on renovating buildings and on the use of other land the school owns.

“The University does have a number of buildings that are tired, strained, or otherwise less than optimal for the programs they support,” reads the document. “The University will need to renew these buildings over time. The schedule on which it does so will depend partly on the interest and availability of donors. Where donors have an interest in a particular department or building, it will make sense for the University to co-invest with them to renovate facilities that would in
any event need attention in the foreseeable future.”

Computer science, statistics, and machine learning are fields in which the school will need to work to make sure scholars and students have “the facilities, the support staff, the data, and the training they need to tackle the questions that information technology has rendered newly amenable to inquiry and exploration.”

The school has also identified finding ways to cultivate interaction between its faculty
members, researchers, students and their counterparts in the non-profit, corporate,
and government sectors as a priority.

“The University might achieve this goal in a number of ways, including by expanding its role as a convener of events that combine audiences from multiple constituencies and groups, by facilitating grassroots contacts and connections developed by its faculty members, or by planning for the development of campus lands in ways that make possible productive interactions,” reads the report. “Any successful strategy is likely to have both short-term and long-term elements. Although it remains to be determined what mechanisms will work best, the board is convinced that Princeton should encourage the growth of networks and infrastructure that allow it to connect with non-academic partners who can help it carry out its teaching and research mission and enhance its impact on the world.”

That board also reviewed the University’s endowment spending policies and raised cap on the target spending range from 5.75 percent to 6.25 percent.

“This change, which the board approved effective July 1, 2015, serves two purposes. Like the earlier increase from 5 percent to 5.75 percent, it accommodates increasing market volatility that is likely to produce more rapid oscillations in the spend rate,” reads the report. “It will also reduce the likelihood that the University will make decisions that favor future generations at the expense of present ones, or that favor financial capital at the expense of human and physical capital.

On July 1, the beginning of fiscal year 2016, Princeton’s spend rate was 4.12 percent. The board authorized the administration to propose an increase to the spend rate that would take place over fiscal years 2017 and 2018. The increase would provide resources that the University could use to co-invest with donors to fund strategic priorities.

The purpose of the “flexible, revisable framework” is to guide important choices by the University’s trustees, administration, and faculty by identifying key goals, trends, and
constraints, and describing major priorities.

“It articulates standards and questions against which to judge proposals for new programs or capital investments, but it does not contain a comprehensive list of projects to be undertaken,” reads the report. “The plan’s objective is not to specify all of the University’s future initiatives, but to create a planning framework for determining them and for understanding the trade-offs among them.”

Several task forces have already published reports, and others will do so in the months to come. The reports are being posted on the Princeton University website.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Walter Thornberry

    Nice to know they still plan to screw graduate students well into the future.

  • Jonathan Baker

    We’re already there and have been for a while. I graduated in ’87. Flipping through the yearbook then, I recognized only about a third of the faces, out of 1100 students per year. I didn’t even see our most recognizable classmate until Reunions just before graduation (B. Shields) – different social and academic circles.

  • nqscmlrx

    I know it’s just 125 more kids per class, but every little bit makes it more and more likely that a face will be a stranger. At some point it becomes as crazy and anonymous as a large university.

    But maybe it’s essential. There’s so much demand. There’s so much talent.

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