Diana Kugel: For GW, less is more

This summer, when your mother’s friends asked you where you were headed to college, you probably felt fairly secure that your reply inspired at least some degree of respect. This University has been increasing in quality since its days as a commuter school, and has now become a nationally recognized institution.

It seems as if students and their families are willing to pay the notoriously hefty GW tuition with the expectation that at the end of four years, students will leave here with a highly regarded degree in hand. But as the job market becomes more and more competitive, there is a need for GW to do everything it can to remain a reputable institution. From my very first few weeks on campus, I can see that the number of students attending GW is one aspect of the school that needs improvement.

With an undergraduate population of 10,761, GW has made efforts to keep its freshman classes close to 2,400 students. Apart from a spike of admitted students in 2004, when the University accepted 2,669 scholars to the first-year class, these numbers have stayed pretty consistent. They are still extremely high, however, when compared to those universities in the upper echelon of higher education.

For the 2006-2007 school year, Harvard College enrolled a mere 1,684 freshmen, more than 700 fewer than GW, and retained an undergraduate student body of 6,613. Yale University and Princeton University were even more stringent in their selectivity, admitting a meager 1,321 and 1,221 students, respectively. Yale kept its undergraduate population at 5,200 and Princeton refused to go above 4,710 students. When we compare these numbers to those of GW, it is clear that we still have quite a way to go in getting our numbers down to a highly competitive level.

Apart from the selectivity rankings, having fewer students has many obvious advantages for all concerned. For instance, Yale is able to boast a student-faculty ratio of 7 to 1, while at GW we have to settle for almost double the amount of students per faculty member, at a ratio of 13.6 to 1, according to GW’s University Factbook.

I always realized that by coming to a school as large as GW, I should expect large lecture classes where I would be just a name in a grade book. However, it was still an unpleasant shock to find myself in a series of huge lecture halls where the professor openly admitted that he would not be making an effort to learn our names. And with the number of students he has to deal with, who could blame him? Reducing enrollment would help to improve the quality of the class environment.

Fewer students would also mean that GW would not be operating at 100 percent occupancy, allowing those living on campus more choice as to their accommodations. At the floor meeting on move-in day, when asked how many people actually chose to be in our building, only two out of about 40 raised their hands. It would be impossible to accommodate every single student’s housing wishes, but there simply has to be a way to do better than this.

It’s clear from a business point of view why GW fills up its dorms. However, if the University was to gradually decrease the amount of freshmen admitted, then small percentages of rooms could be left empty in anticipation of room conflicts and other issues that tend to arise.

A smaller population on campus also has benefits for other aspects of campus life. It would mean shorter lines at eateries during lunch and dinner, and less-crowded sidewalks. Nearly all of us have waited a half-hour for a sandwich at J Street, or stood in a line that stretched out the door at Starbucks. The bottom line is that fewer students would simply mean a more enjoyable and comfortable living and learning environment for everyone.

The flip side of this argument is of course that with a smaller student population, tuition might rise due to a fall in revenue. But in the long run, if GW – through a smaller enrollment – is able to produce above-average graduates who are able to do well for themselves in the job market, these alumni will be able to make rather nice donations to the school. This is especially true if they look back on their time here fondly, instead of recalling constantly feeling like a statistic.

Clearly, it is unreasonable to expect that GW will go from 10,761 undergraduate students to Princeton’s 4,710 in the next year or two. If we could manage to downsize to even 8,000 students in the near future, however, then students would have a better academic environment, more space and abundant resources to contribute to their educational experience.

-The writer is a freshman majoring in criminal justice.

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