Number of students on campus nears limit

The University was 60 students away from exceeding the city-imposed enrollment cap for the Foggy Bottom campus this semester, likely reflecting increased interest in the University, but posing a problem for GW’s future growth.

With the level of students close to reaching the full-time student cap, the University is looking for ways to decrease the student count by encouraging students to study abroad and moving programs to other campuses, University President Steven Knapp said last month at the Board of Trustees meeting.

The high enrollment numbers show that the University is able to attract and enroll more students than ever, but if the University accidently exceeds the enrollment cap, GW will face substantial fines and other troubles from the D.C. government.

Two caps restrict the Foggy Bottom campus. The headcount cap limits Foggy Bottom to 20,000 students and is measured by subtracting students studying abroad, students enrolled without a defined graduation date, and students living or taking all of their classes at the Mount Vernon campus from the total number of students at the Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses, according to the spring 2009 Foggy Bottom Campus Plan Interim Compliance Report.

The other limit – the one the University is close to exceeding – is the full-time equivalent cap, which limits Foggy Bottom to 16,553 full-time or full-time equivalent students, who are “a fraction of part-time students” based on credit counts, the report states.

Deputy General Counsel Charles Barber said the D.C. Zoning Commission has only generally addressed what the punishments for GW would be if the University exceeds either cap, but Barber said fines or the denial of future building permits could occur.

At the board meeting, Knapp said the University plans to look at ways to slightly manipulate the count of students at Foggy Bottom, thus enabling the University to admit more students each year.

One model mentioned is the “D-Plan,” which is Dartmouth University’s model. In that plan, students are required to spend part of their tenure at Dartmouth on leave from the university, either abroad or in some other capacity.

GW has also looked in the past to “balance out” its study abroad numbers by encouraging more students to go abroad in the fall semester, said Senior Associate Vice President for Operations Alicia O’Neil. Another option is to move programs from the Foggy Bottom campus to the Mount Vernon or Virginia campuses. The forensic science department was moved to the Mount Vernon campus earlier this year, Knapp said.

While no definite plans have been set, Barber and O’Neil said the University is brainstorming ways to further rearrange Foggy Bottom enrollment and programs.

“In terms of moving programs, it’s being considered. In terms of where and when and how, I don’t think there have been any decisions yet,” O’Neil said.

She added, “There has long been a discussion in how to best use the Virginia campus.”

Enrollment caps become an issue particularly at times when GW sees more students accept their admissions offers. This fall, for example, University officials thought more students would decide mid-summer to not attend GW because of the recession, but instead a record number of students accepted and stayed.

This high yield scares Asher Corson, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A commissioner and president of the Foggy Bottom Association. Corson, who is also an alumnus of the University, said he does not believe GW would “maliciously” go over the cap but believes the method of counting “does not reflect reality.”

Corson said GW might accidentally exceed its cap if more students attend than the University planned.

The method of counting students has been a point of contention between the Foggy Bottom Association and the University. When the Zoning Commission approved GW’s campus plan and passed the caps, the association filed an appeal against the Zoning Commission’s decision.

Barber said he listened to the Foggy Bottom Association’s “theory of the world” and said of the group, “They want to count everyone who steps foot on the campus.”

Corson said the enrollment cap comes down to a “quality of life” issue.

“We are protecting our quality of life, more students mean noise, traffic and more people in Foggy Bottom,” Corson said. “For the people in the neighborhood, it does not matter if students are taking one class or four, they are still on campus.”

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