University examines growing class size

March 4, 2010, 1:03 a.m.

Over a three-year period, Stanford has quietly seen an almost five percent increase in the number of new students it enrolls each year — and the University appears ready to stay the course for the near future.

This year’s junior class is at the front of a small, recent upward trend in the number of new students Stanford enrolls each year, which will likely continue for at least another year, but nonetheless appears not to have had any significant impact on either campus administration or the overall size of the undergraduate population.

Beginning with the Class of 2011 and other new students who entered Stanford in the fall of 2007, the number of new degree-seeking students per year has risen noticeably from previous baseline levels. As measured by the combination of incoming freshmen and transfers, Stanford has enrolled a greater number of new students in each of the last three years, according to information contained within the Common Data Set, a set of statistics released by Stanford.

For incoming classes during the three-year period of 2007 to 2009, an average of 1,750 students per year enrolled for the first time.

By comparison, for the three-year period from 2004 to 2006, the average was 1,674 students. From 2001 to 2003, the average was a still-lower 1,665.

This increase in new students is not a targeted effort by the University, but likely owes itself to a combination of factors, including an increasing yield rate and the changing capacity of undergraduate housing, according to Provost John Etchemendy.

“Our standard practice is to admit as many students as we have undergraduate dorm space for,” Etchemendy wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “This is partly determined by how many upperclass students stop out or finish early, how many go to an overseas campus and how many we admit as transfers. [Residential & Dining Enterprises] give Admissions their estimate each spring, and admissions uses that number to determine the incoming class size.”

Nonetheless, the Office of Admission’s planned incoming class will not significantly alter this trend.

Shawn Abbott, director of admission, said in January that his office will seek to enroll 1,675 freshmen, and then add 20 transfer students, for a total incoming cohort of 1,695. This target is provisional and depends on the yield rate, but if the office hits its desired target, the four class years from 2007 to 2010 would have enrolled, on average, 1,737 new students per class year. For the period from 2002 to 2006, the corresponding figure is 1,676 students per class year, and each individual cohort was lower than 1,695.

The increase in the baseline number of students admitted by more than 50 per class year, for a period of four years, has not posed any significant challenge for the University, according to administrators.

“Fluctuations of this magnitude have minimal impact on University classes or services,” Etchemendy said.

“The aggregate effect of any minimal increases has not significantly impacted our ability to provide quality services and programs to our undergraduate population,” added Vice Provost for Student Affairs Greg Boardman in an e-mail to The Daily.

The administration has indicated that it will not increase incoming class sizes to a level that would significantly impact student quality of life.

In January 2008, University President John Hennessy announced a task force to study the feasibility of “slightly increasing” the size of incoming freshman classes, and therefore increasing the total size of the undergraduate population.

In February 2009, that effort was put on hold due to the University’s severe budget challenges in the wake of the economic recession.

According to the University Communications Web site, “The Common Data Set Initiative is a collaborative effort between publishers and the educational community to improve the quality and accuracy of information provided to all involved in a student’s transition into higher education, as well as to reduce the burden on colleges of compiling and reporting information.”

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