HMC Discusses Enrollment Increase

The Harvey Mudd College Board of Trustees will vote Nov. 1 on a plan to increase college enrollment from the current 803 students to 900 students by 2023. The proposal has generated significant conversation among students, faculty, and the administration.

“We think that intimacy and the community we have is a core part of the educational experience,” HMC President Maria Klawe said. “We want to provide this to more students, but we want to do it slowly and carefully so we don’t inadvertently lose some of what we call the magic of HMC.”  

Established in 1957, HMC is a relatively young school that has grown by over 400 students over the last 40 years. The proposed expansion would continue that trend and provide accommodations that include two new residence halls and an additional academic building by 2023.

“I think we provide the best undergraduate science and engineering on the face of the earth, and the world would benefit from having a few more people with that education,” Klawe said.

“When you grow, you enable the addition of faculty in lots of new areas, which is a great thing for students to have access to,” she added.

To gauge student opinion on the proposal, the Associated Students of Harvey Mudd College (ASHMC) conducted a survey to which 92 percent of students responded. 

More than half indicated that they “somewhat disagree,” “disagree,” or “strongly disagree” with the proposal. When students were asked what they thought the ideal size of the college was, their responses were overwhelmingly centered on one number: 800, the college’s current size.

HMC Department of Mathematics Chair Andrew Bernoff offered an explanation of the survey results.

“Colleges change over time,” he said. “If you go back and talk to alumni, what you discover is that every alumnus you talk to will tell you that the college was the perfect size when they graduated. There’s this fear of loss of intimacy, loss of familiarity. But in fact for the students, we’re talking about how the next three incoming classes will probably be smaller than this freshman class.”

Students and faculty discussed the potential effects of expansion on the school’s values and available resources. 

“I think that it’s a really great thing for the school, but I think that it would be excessively optimistic for me to say that it’s not going to have a lot of challenges that accompany it,” Elly Schofield HM ’13 said. “For me, my experience of this school didn’t rely on the size of the school; it relied on the amount of resources it could provide to each individual student.”

HMC computer science professor Geoff Kuenning argued against expansion in an e-mail to the HMC community.

“President Klawe emphasized again that Mudd community is about its values, not its size,” he wrote. “She kept bringing these points up, but it was never explicitly stated how those values might be maintained under expansion.”

Klawe responded to students’ questions Oct. 10 in the Platt Campus Center. Some of the main concerns included the preservation of HMC’s Honor Code, faculty-student trust, and the school’s sense of community.

Sarah Nichols HM ’16 spoke about how increased enrollment could negatively affect the Honor Code. 

“I know people behave better when they know the people watching them are people that care about their opinions,” she said. “I guess I’m concerned that as people don’t know every other person, they’ll feel less comfortable approaching someone and asking them to self-report.”

In his e-mail, Kuenning suggested that there is also a financial motivation for expansion. 

“More students equal more tuition,” he wrote. “President Klawe has stated that it is difficulty [sic] to keep a college financially stable at a size below about 1,500 students, and has cited as support for that proposition the fact that there are very few colleges smaller than that.”

Klawe disagreed with this reasoning, however.

“You can hear lots of comments out there that we’re doing it just to fix the financial problem,” she said. “That’s not the reason we’re thinking about growth. We have done budget models to check that the finances work out now. They look fine.” 

Klawe presented the two-phase growth plan to faculty and staff Oct. 9 in the Aviation Room of Hoch-Shanahan Dining Commons. Phase I includes growth of the student body by 50 students by 2018, as well as completion of a new residence hall by 2016 and the new South Olin academic building by 2018. The administration would then assess the effect on the Honor Code and core values thus far. Then Phase II would begin, expanding the student body to 900 and completing another new residence hall by 2023. Finally, HMC plans to raise its financial aid discount rate, which is the average percent of tuition covered by HMC’s financial aid, from the current 38 percent to about 45 percent in the next 10 years.

One focus of the conversation about expansion has been the Class of 2017, which numbers 217, 21 more students than initially planned. 

“The original target figure was 196,” Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid Thyra Briggs wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “Last year, the college got a lot of very good press at the same time they released the decisions about the incoming class, and therefore the yield was remarkably high.”

Briggs noted the potential effect of the enrollment expansion on HMC’s admissions.

“Every year we, like most highly selective colleges, have to say no to some amazing students, and expansion would give us a little more room to bring these students in,” Briggs wrote. 

Klawe said that the conversation surrounding the proposal is a mark of how much members of the HMC community care about the college. 

“It’s because they truly love the institution and they worry that if you change things about it, somehow you destroy what is really precious about it,” she said.

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