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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, February 29, 2024

The expansion of Tufts’ undergraduate enrollment, Part 2: How big is too big for Tufts?

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Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series on the expansion of Tufts' undergraduate enrollment. Read the first part here.

In a Feb. 18 email, Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of media relations, wrote to the Daily that the “university is halfway through a multi-year enrollment growth management plan that at its conclusion in 2026 will level off with an undergraduate student body of approximately 6,600 full-time students.”

As Tufts University continues to expand its undergraduate enrollment, many community members have wondered whether a bigger Tufts will be the new normal, and if so, how big will ultimately be too big for the Tufts undergraduate population. Many undergraduate students and faculty, in fact, were surprised to hear about the university’s long-term enrollment expansion as they expressed concerns about the issues that might come with overenrollment.

The conversation around the undergraduate enrollment is especially salient as the university’s application pool grows each year, with more than 34,000 students applying to the Tufts undergraduate Class of 2026. Considering that Tufts received slightly less than 20,000 applications for the Class of 2019, the university has seen nearly a 78% increase in the number of applications in just seven years. 

According to Collins’ email, the goal of increasing the undergraduate enrollment is to “make a transformative Tufts education available and accessible to more students, with the goal of preparing more young people to make a positive impact on the world.”

On such a view, Tufts’ ever-growing application pool presents the university with a new opportunity to welcome a student body that is more talented and diverse than ever.

Class of 2025 TCU Senator Natalie Rossinow similarly explained how the Tufts community could benefit from having more talented students who will bring a wider range of perspectives and ideas to the campus. 

I think that … increasing the student population [can be] good for everyone,” Rossinow said. “Having brighter peers and people from all these different experiences [and] internationally is really beneficial, [and] personally … [it can mean] having a better education and learning from the people around you. There are so many bright people … [who] deserve to be here, and I think, maybe, the admissions thought that too and had a hard time saying no.”

While acknowledging many benefits of expanding the undergraduate enrollment, John Lurz, an associate professor of English, can also see how preserving the quality of undergraduate experience might be a challenge for Tufts

The positive [of increasing the enrollment] is that you get more smart people in one place, and … there’s more opportunity for collaboration and communication,” Lurz said. “The downsides are if the infrastructure of the institution can’t support that, and I think the Hyatt Hotel [is] the most obvious and egregious of the [situation].” 

As Lurz pointed out, it is no secret that the university administration scrambled to house approximately 100 first-years in the Hyatt Place for the 202122 academic year and converted Blakeley Hall, a previously graduate student dorm for Fletcher students, into undergraduate housing. Compounded by the ongoing pandemic, the university also has faced challenges in isolating community members who test positive for COVID-19.

Overall, as the demand for on-campus housing continues to exceed the number of beds available on campus, the university’s increasing undergraduate enrollment further exacerbates the ongoing housing crisis in Medford/Somerville campus and its host communities — an issue that long predates this year’s overenrollment.

Per Collins, to meet the student body’s ever-growing demand for housing, the university is “continuing to focus on adding more beds and building or renovating more residential spaces on campus” and “[adding] temporary housing on campus next year.”

The university, however, has not announced any official plans to build new dormitories, dining facilities, or other related campus facilities that appear increasingly necessary with the university’s continued expansion of the undergraduate enrollment.

When asked for comment, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser said that there is a “substantial” and “advanced” conversation within the university administration “about another residence hall being built on campus.”

In light of the university’s long-term plans to expand its undergraduate population to 6,600 full-time students, however, Rabiya Ismail, a senior and former TCU senator, noted that more immediate and extensive measures are needed for students today.

I don’t think that [even building] one dorm is going to be enough because if that fits 300 more students — and Tufts is enrolling another thousand [students] — I do not think that it’s sustainable for Tufts [in the long run],” Ismail said. “I think that [the university] just [needs] to build multiple dorms, maybe three dorms, to even fill how many students are on campus at this exact moment. In the future, they will have to build even more than that.”

Ismail elaborated that there have been “too many temporary solutions” for “permanent problems” such as the ongoing housing crisis, overenrollment and packed classrooms.Rossinow similarly added that while she has had a generally positive first-year experience, she is upset by how many other first-years have had a much more difficult school year.

It’s just really unfair that we have to wait in these long lines, that we have to live in a hotel off campus, and you have such trouble registering for classes. It’s just unfair as a student that this is the place that we chose to be,” Rossinow said. “If we are getting treated like that and not seeing a change, [then], what’s the plan … [and] where is this going?”

In regards to housing, Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarríbar wrote to the Daily, explaining that the university “currently [does] not anticipate needing to use the Hyatt next year.”Lizarríbar also wrote that the university’s enrollment growth plan will encompass the plans “[involving] investment in housing, dining and related areas that are important for student life.”

That work has been underway and is ongoing,” Lizarríbar wrote. “We [have already] added more than 450 on-campus beds in the last five years. That’s the equivalent of building two new dorms. … We will continue to grow our housing stock next year, and … we will be building a new dorm with 370 new beds.”

Echoing Ismail and Rossinow’s sentiment, Max Miller, a senior and trustee representative for the TCU Senate, shed light on how much the monthly rent has gone up in the host communities of Medford and Somerville, especially as the increasing undergraduate enrollment has pushed more students into off-campus housing. Miller’ssister graduated from Tufts six years ago, which gives him a reference point in his comparison. 

It’s going to be tough even for people living off campus to find [housing] options. Rent’s going up,” Miller said. “[Compared to what my sister paid] six years ago … versus what somebody in that house, I imagine, is paying now, based on what I know … I think it’s an increase of $300 in six years, per month.”

Ismail pointed out that while the university is introducing initiatives such as the initiative to make Tufts an anti-racist institution, the university’s housing policies leave much left to be desired in actualizing its goals on the ground.

[An] anti-racism initiative does not only mean accepting more diverse groups of students, it [also] means creating equitable … practices throughout the university, and I think that includes housing,” Ismail said.

Ismail added that in the future, if Tufts were to continue to expand, the university first has to make sure that it can continue to provide quality residential undergraduate experience that encompasses many aspects of traditional college experience.

Acknowledging the many challenges that the Tufts community has faced, especially during this school year, Glaser introduced the university’s efforts to maintain its qualitative standards as the undergraduate enrollment continues to expand. Overall, Glaser elaborated that the university is currently upgrading and trying to “make sure that what we’re offering students is … really commensurate with what their expectations are [which] requires a lot of investment.”

Glaser said that the university is committed to providing quality undergraduate experience, adding that the university will “have a bumper crop of faculty” coming in for the next school year in conjunction with other institutional efforts.

We are having a very bountiful year of faculty hiring … [and] we have the new Cummings building that has opened up, and that’s creating new space opportunities,” Glaser said. “We are sort of working our way towards that new equilibrium.”

Ultimately, Glaser is optimistic about the future of the university, its unique culture and its potential. 

I think [that] Tufts culture goes way beyond the number of students that we have,”  Glaser said. I think the culture is set by the kinds of people that we have, and the culture is defined by all kinds of things.

Lizarríbar added that “[there] are big universities that feel intimate, and small colleges that feel vast and lonely.” She emphasized that Tufts is “a student-centered research university that has caring, connected students, faculty and staff.” 

Moving forward, Ismail hopes to see a greater input from the student body in deliberating the university’s long-term enrollment plans.

I think [the university administration needs] to put out a student climate survey, pretty immediately, because I think things have changed since the last one,” Ismail said. “There are students in hotels. … [By] doing that, they will be able to see how students actually feel, and I think also they need to really be reading those and acting on those. … I know that students voice their concerns on this survey, but I’m just not sure if they’re ever listened to.”

In the future, Lizarríbar said that there will be more opportunities for the student body to improve the undergraduate experience in general. 

 “[We] are in the midst of creating a five-year strategic plan to explore what … opportunities we have before us,” Lizarríbar wrote. “We created a Student Advisory Group to consult with us and provide student input on both this plan and on Student Affairs in general.”