Weekly Bulletin
February 7, 2000
Vol. 89, No. 15
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Trustees call for larger student body

A special trustee committee has recommended that Princeton increase the size of its undergraduate student body by approximately 10 percent (from 4,600 to 5,100) to "enhance the quality of the overall educational experience at Princeton and make more effective use of the University's extraordinary resources." The increase would be phased in over four years, probably beginning three or four years from now after additional dormitory and dining space has been constructed.

The committee was appointed in the fall of 1997 to consider a number of long-term strategic issues facing Princeton over the coming decade, including issues related to the size of the undergraduate student body, the undergraduate financial aid program, the Graduate School, the faculty, the administrative and support staffs, the University's physical resources, the University's financial resources, the use of new technologies and the library. The chair of the committee is Paul Wythes, a charter trustee from California and a member of the Class of 1955.

"Princeton is distinctive among research universities in its commitments to undergraduate education and to a human scale that encourages opportunities for personal interaction," Wythes said. "Our recommendation is that the University should reaffirm these commitments. At the same time, we believe that Princeton can best meet these and other important goals if it increases each undergraduate class from its current size of roughly 1,150 to about 1,275.

"Princeton has no interest in becoming larger for the sake of being larger," Wythes added. "But it does have an interest in optimizing its contributions to higher education, to the world of scholarship and to society in ways that are consistent with its mission. We believe Princeton should modestly increase the number of undergraduates it educates because, in doing so, it can enrich the overall experience of all its students and make fuller use of its educational resources without altering the fundamental nature of the Princeton undergraduate experience."

President Harold Shapiro *64, a member of the committee, said, "As part of its 250th anniversary, Princeton expanded its informal motto 'in the nation's service' to also include 'the service of all nations.' Princeton fulfills its mission through the teaching and scholarly activity of its faculty and through the students it educates, who go on to make leadership contributions in many fields--in this country and around the world. The committee's proposal recognizes that 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."

Committee's reasons

In making its recommendation, the committee notes the following:

• Princeton attracts many more superbly qualified applicants each year than the 12 percent it can admit. By increasing its size, Princeton can expand the range of talents, perspectives, and academic and nonacademic interests in each class. Dean of Admission Fred Hargadon told the committee that the applicant pool is so rich in excellently qualified students that he could admit two undergraduate classes of the current size and of essentially the same exceptional abilities and promise.

• Princeton has made significant improvements in its student aid programs for both American and international students to help assure continued diversity in its applicant pool. Increasing the size of its student body would permit fuller representation of this diversity on campus. It may also permit, for the first time in many years, the admission of a small number of transfer students.

• Princeton's undergraduate enrollment has been relatively constant for about 25 years, since the size of each class grew from 800 to roughly 1,150 following coeducation. Since then, the faculty has increased by one percent a year on average. That rate of growth is projected to continue as knowledge increases and new academic fields emerge. This growth in the faculty expands the educational opportunities available at Princeton and allows Princeton to increase the size of the student body while maintaining its historically low student-faculty ratio. All faculty at Princeton continue to be engaged in teaching.

• The proposed increase in the number of undergraduates is expected to be roughly proportional to the increase in faculty size between now and the time by which the committee's proposal is fully implemented. These additional faculty allow Princeton to increase the size of its student body while sustaining such core elements of the Princeton undergraduate program as individual attention to students, precepts of no more than 12 students, and the advising of senior theses by tenured and tenure-track faculty. They also allow for selective increases in faculty positions in certain areas where pressure on teaching and advising is greatest.

• Recent growth in the size of the faculty has been accompanied by additions to the undergraduate curriculum in fields ranging from molecular biology and finance to the creative and performing arts. A 10 percent increase in the number of undergraduates will provide additional support for these and other emerging programs.

• To remain a leading world-class scholarly institution, Princeton must continue to add faculty and programs in selected areas. If it does so without increasing the size of the entering class, the number of undergraduates will become an increasingly smaller proportion of the overall University. A modest increase will help assure that undergraduate education remains at the center of the institution. Even with an increase of 125 students per undergraduate class, Princeton's class (1,275) would still be smaller than those of its principal competitors (1,350 at Yale and 1,650 at both Harvard and Stanford).

• During the past two decades Princeton has created a system of five residential colleges for all freshmen and sophomores that allows them to live, eat and socialize in communities of about 500 students each. The committee proposes the creation of one new residential college that would accommodate the increased number of freshmen and sophomores and also allow for some reduction in the number of students in the existing colleges. This, in turn, will allow some additional flexibility in using space within the existing colleges--for example, to create more spaces for instructional use and more common space.

• Except for new dormitory space to accommodate the proposed addition of 500 undergraduates and the construction of a sixth residential college, no other facilities need to be added. Princeton has adequate classroom, library, laboratory, athletic and recreational space to support the additional students, and is about to complete construction of a 180,000-square-foot campus center. Even after providing for financial aid, the tuition revenues from 500 additional students should offset the additional costs, even if outside funding is not found for the additional dormitories and residential college. While the committee did not propose locations for these new facilities, it did review potential locations and concluded that the campus "can accommodate facilities of the size required without adversely altering the unique character of the campus or its beauty."

• Because of the growth over time of its faculty, its financial resources and its campus facilities, Princeton is able to provide its unique education to a larger number of students without altering the fundamental nature of the Princeton experience. By educating a larger number of students, Princeton can increase the vitality of student life and make an even greater commitment to the service of society.

Other recommendations

In addition to recommending an increase of 500 students in the undergraduate student body, the committee makes recommendations regarding the undergraduate financial aid program (increase support for middle-income families); the Graduate School (maintain current size, increase financial aid and improve training of graduate students as teachers); the faculty (controlled growth, with some redistribution of positions in selected fields and from senior to junior ranks); the administrative and support staffs ("achieve even greater administrative efficiency"); the University's physical resources (accelerate the dormitory renovation schedule); its financial resources (strengthen corporate and foundation fundraising and "continue the current trend of lowering tuition increases, as long as inflation remains under control and appropriate faculty compensation levels are achievable"); the use of new technologies ("develop as expeditiously as possible initiatives that can more fully extend the use of new technology in the University's teaching and research programs," including distance learning programs that initially would focus on alumni but eventually would reach broader audiences); and the library ("assure that staff members are able to keep pace with rapid changes in information technology").

The committee begins its report by reviewing the recommendations of the 1993 Strategic Plan and other recent trustee reviews of strategic issues; the growth in Princeton's educational, scholarly and support programs and in its physical and financial assets over recent years; and the large number of actions Princeton has taken over the past 10 to 12 years to improve the undergraduate curriculum. It also incorporates an essay by President Shapiro on external factors that may have an influence on Princeton and on higher education in general in the decades immediately ahead.

Two overarching principles

The committee ends its report by noting that its work "has been guided by two overarching principles. The first is our obligation to exercise responsible stewardship of the exceptional resources that Princeton has accumulated over many years and to assure that they will be sustained and strengthened into the future. We are persuaded that the budgetary and management policies and procedures currently in place, augmented by those recommended in this report, will allow us to meet this obligation, even in the challenging and ever-changing environment of the first years of the 21st century.

"Second, in asking whether there were initiatives Princeton should undertake to make optimal use of its remarkable resources and whether Princeton should extend its educational and scholarly reach, our answers to both questions were 'yes.' For reasons enumerated in our report, we believe that Princeton should increase the size of its undergraduate student body by approximately 125 students per class; that it should enhance its financial aid programs for both undergraduate and graduate students; that it should take further steps to strengthen the faculty and the administrative, support and other staffs; that it should extend its educational and scholarly reach, both on campus and off, through enhanced technologies; and that it should take a number of other steps that, individually and collectively, will enable Princeton to serve even better its students and alumni, the nation and the world."

Action in April

The committee met 25 times, including four all-day, off campus meetings, in developing its recommendations and discussed them at length with the full board of trustees on four occasions, including the November 1999 and January 2000 meetings. The committee formally presented its report to the board at its January 29 meeting, with a request that the board act on it at its April 15, 2000 meeting.

President Shapiro said, "The Wythes Committee has made a number of important recommendations that will bring new strength and vitality to Princeton, that will increase its capacity to achieve its fundamental objectives and that will prepare Princeton for the challenges of the new century. As the committee points out, the modern history of higher education vividly demonstrates that if an institution does not evolve with changing times, it cannot retain either its distinction or its social relevance.

"While retaining its historic emphasis on excellence in undergraduate education, Princeton needs to continue to expand into new intellectual fields, develop new courses of study, remain accessible to a broad range of students from all economic backgrounds, and reach out in new ways to alumni and others through new technologies. This report provides us with an excellent blueprint to achieve these goals."

In addition to Wythes and Shapiro, the committee included trustees Jon Barfield '74, Dennis Keller '63, Karen Magee '83, Edward Matthews '53, Robert Murley '72, Robert Rawson '66, John Scully '66, Sejal Shah '95 and John Sherrerd '52. Provost Jeremiah Ostriker served as secretary to the committee.

The complete text of the report will be available online at