Consortium Faces Growing Pains, Housing Crunch


The Claremont University Consortium (CUC) was founded with the intention of creating a group of academically rigorous, small colleges with shared resources, according to Robert Walton, Chief Executive Office of the CUC. The criterion of “small,” however, is being called into question as rumors of expanding student bodies sweep the Claremont Colleges.

“It’s clear that there’s all this talk going around… it is like the game of telephone where it gets far enough away from the source where suddenly [a college] is growing into a 10,000 person school,” said Maggie Browning, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Harvey Mudd College (HMC).

 Each college’s enrollment is limited to a specific number of students agreed upon by the Consortium in the year 2000. Pomona College, with a cap of 1800 students, is the only undergraduate school in the Claremont Colleges that is purposefully expanding its student body, growing from 375 incoming students in 2007 to 394 this fall. According to Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum, this growth is made possible by two new residence halls and is meant to compensate for lower student numbers in recent years.

“In the 2000s we had to decrease the number of entering students because more and more students live on-campus,” Feldblum said. “Right now the new residence halls help us go back to where we were.”

There is also a long-term plan to tear down Lawry and construct a third new dorm, “Building C,” in its place, a project that would further expand housing. With room to grow in the future, Pomona has plans to ensure that resources stay available.

“We imagine that we would add faculty and staff positions as the number of students grows in order to maintain an excellent education,” Pomona President David Oxtoby said. “The result would be more, not fewer, opportunities.”

The other undergraduate schools have no immediate plans to increase student population. The desire to keep enrollment relatively stable is due in part to recent inadvertent growth as well as to housing and facility restraints. Harvey Mudd President Maria Klawe said there is no current plan for student body expansion, but the college’s population has increased unintentionally in recent years. 

According to Browning, the target number for each class at HMC is 195 students, but two years ago the incoming class had 207 due to a higher yield. This increase has put a squeeze on campus resources.

“Given our facilities, we don’t really have space for more students,” she said. “We’ve kind of accidentally grown larger than we intended to be, and we’re incredibly cramped.” Harvey Mudd has long-term plans to renovate dorms and to construct a new residence hall, as mentioned in HMC’s 25-year Master Plan filed with the City of Claremont.

 The Master Plan makes arrangements for up to 800 students, the CUC cap, but according to Browning, “the numbers are intentionally meant to give you a little wiggle room… we have no plans to go to 800 right now.”

Claremont McKenna College (CMC) is also completing a Master Plan designed to accommodate up to its cap of 1400 students. Yet according to Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jeff Huang, CMC is not planning on reaching its maximum in the next few years. With the current CMC student population at a high of 1183 due to an increased yield and fewer transfers, CMC also faces housing difficulties.

“At the moment I’m running the residence halls at about 103% capacity, and so I can’t imagine a significant leap [in enrollment] until we can catch up on residential life,” Huang said.

CMC is planning construction projects regardless of campus population as well as in case the student body does grow in the next 25 years, according to Vice President for Planning and General Counsel Matthew Bibbens.

“A new campus center and a new fitness and athletics center are present needs we have even if we don’t grow,” he said. “But we also need to know if we do grow our enrollment where those residence halls would go.”

Pitzer College also has ongoing construction projects. Two large buildings, combinations of dorms, academic resources and administrative offices, are on schedule to be completed by June 2012. One more residence hall will be built in the future, according to Pitzer College President Laura Skandera Trombley.

“By the end of our building projects we will be able to house 94% of all Pitzer students,” Trombley said.

Scripps College faces its own share of problems due to a higher yield in recent years. According to Scripps President Lori Bettison-Varga, the goal is to stabilize student population at 950, although the current numbers are closer to 960. With more students, Scripps has managed to keep the student to faculty ratio below 10:1, but problems regarding housing have arisen.

“We have done some very careful work in terms of doubles and triples, we’ve got students at Pomona… and then we have off-campus apartments,” she said.

With a shortage of on-campus housing, Scripps is currently designing a new residence hall just north of Tiernan Field House on land it already owns. For Bettison-Varga, the goal is to focus on expanding opportunities for current students as opposed to increasing in size.

“We’re trying to get the resource level increased over time to support even more the student body that we have,” said Bettison-Varga, “We have been an intimate community in terms of our residence hall programming, and it is a concern for our alums to think about how the growth impacts that sense of community.”

While some college growth has been planned and some unplanned, administrators agree that unchecked expansion could negatively impact the Consortium. “There’s no magic line that any college has found where intimacy suddenly disappears, but that is the concern, where a small college suddenly feels like a big college,” Huang said.

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