Officials should be transparent about how a large freshmen class would impact campus

The Class of 2021 has the potential to be bigger than in years past – but we have no way of knowing what the class will actually look like until after May 1.

GW surprised us by accepting more than 11,000 students this year after receiving a record number of applications. This is almost 1,000 more students than last year. But GW still plans on enrolling a typical class size of about 2,500 students this fall.

Yield rate, which is the percentage of admitted students who ultimately enroll, is completely out of GW’s control. Once the acceptance letters are sent, there’s no way for admissions officials to know how many students will enroll until May 1 – the deadline for students to choose a university. Yield rates in general have been fluctuating, making it hard for colleges around the country to predict how large their freshmen classes will be and even more complicated when assigning housing and deciding how many students are enrolled in course sections.

GW’s yield rate has gone down every year since 2012, which means fewer admitted students are deciding to come here, and high school students are applying to more schools in general. But admissions officers are still taking a gamble by accepting so many students and hoping they’ll end up enrolling a typical class size. University officials should communicate to the student body that they know they’re in unknown territory and have plans for what steps to take – especially in regards to housing and class sizes – if they enroll a larger freshmen class than anticipated.

The biggest concern that comes with enrolling a larger freshman class is finding a way to house every student. Officials are already starting to address this problem by housing freshmen in Lafayette Hall again this fall. It’s good to see that the University is already taking steps to prepare for what could be a larger freshmen class than in years past, but overpopulation could be an issue beyond the extra students living in Lafayette Hall.

We are currently at 99.66 percent of our enrollment cap, which is the maximum number of undergraduate and graduate students who can take classes on the Foggy Bottom campus. Although reshuffling students into different residence halls is a good temporary solution, officials should also take steps to ensure we do not exceed capacity. Dropping the third-year housing requirement in the future would not only free up more beds for freshmen, but would also solve the long-term problem of overpopulation that the University faces.

But the potential problems that stem from accepting this many students don’t stop at housing. The average class size is currently 28 students. A larger freshmen class could result in bigger class sizes, which can affect learning because students will have fewer opportunities to engage in class discussions and interact with professors without needing to go to office hours. It would especially affect freshmen courses, like University Writing, in which professors give personalized instruction and feedback to students, because they have already experienced increases in class size.

Plus, a larger class size would also increase the size of student organizations on campus. Now that GW added a new sorority to campus this year, and the Panhellenic Association, Interfraternity Council and Multicultural Greek Council’s goal to each add between one and three chapters to campus by 2018, it’s possible we’ll see Greek Life grow again on campus. This year, fewer than 600 women took part in sorority recruitment – which was the lowest number since 2010.

Although a larger freshmen class could impact the student experience, it can also affect the University’s reputation. GW ranked the highest in 2011 at No. 50, before falling one spot to 51 the next year and losing that spot altogether after an admissions scandal in 2013. Since then, GW has steadily fallen below the top 50 and now ranks at No. 56, which is lower than all but one of our peer schools, American University. Additionally, GW’s acceptance rate experienced a slight increase from 40.2 percent last year to 40.9 percent this year, which will likely cause our ranking to fall again.

If GW wants to improve its reputation and stay competitive with peer institutions, then officials should want to move back toward a lower acceptance rate. Whether we like it or not, many high school students look at how competitive school acceptance rates are when making decisions about where to attend college.

But we understand that GW can only do so much to be more selective. Since the University is about 60 percent-reliant on tuition and is trying to pay off a debt of more than $1 billion, admissions officials have to enroll as many students as possible to generate revenue. As a result, GW needs to be able to balance financial stability with selectivity. Admitting fewer students means the University can’t make as much money, but as students, we would rather be guaranteed housing and have smaller class sizes so we can enjoy the student experience GW promotes.

Ultimately, GW’s decision to accept so many students is understandable, and it’s comforting to see officials are already taking action to ensure they can house all freshmen. But a larger freshman class will have an impact on student life, through increasing class sizes and student groups, as well as on GW’s reputation and ranking.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Melissa Holzberg and contributing opinions editor Irene Ly, based on discussions with managing director Eva Palmer, homepage editor Tyler Loveless, contributing sports editor Matt Cullen and copy editor Melissa Schapiro.

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