Recognizing a gradual and unplanned rise in enrollment over past years, administrators are now turning serious attention to housing expansion in an effort to improve on-campus living standards affected by the growth of the student of body, according to Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president.
"The experience ought to be better than it is," he said. "I think that's the acknowledgement now."
Spies said the Plan for Academic Enrichment, the University's long-range growth plan, did not account for this increase in the size of the student body.
When the University set its priorities, improving housing was a goal, but the consensus was that academic needs like growing the faculty and improving academic facilities took precedence.
"There was never a goal set in (the plan) that said to increase enrollment," Spies said. "It's one of those things that you deal with rather than try to get out in front of."
At the time the plan was approved, total undergraduate enrollment was 5,946, according to statistics from the Office of Institutional Research. Enrollment fluctuated until peaking last academic year at 6,243.
Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron attributed some of the increase to the over-enrollment of the class of 2012 in fall 2008, when admission officials overestimated the decrease in Brown's yield after Harvard and Princeton did away with their early admission options.
Spies said there was a feeling that the student-faculty ratio was too high at the time the plan was drafted. Administrators made a conscious decision to increase the size of the faculty and grow Brown's professional schools while keeping the size of the undergraduate student body constant, he said.
Despite this decision, there is a tendency each year to overshoot enrollment targets primarily because of the increasing quality of the applicant pool, Spies said, particularly for international applicants. At the margin, financial reasons also play a role in increasing the number of students on campus because costs for faculty and other services are already determined, and a larger class leads to more tuition.
"You'd rather be a little over-enrolled than under-enrolled," he said. In an ideal world, undergraduate enrollment would stay roughly the same, "but for a variety of reasons that were not part of the plan, it grew slightly," he added.
When enrollment does increase, growing housing at ahead of enrollment is preferable. "But at smaller numbers, there's the illusion that you can get away with it," he said.
Because formal plans did not call for the increase, administrators are only now beginning to recognize the need to grow housing, he added. But Spies said he believes the decision to prioritize academic projects was the right one.
"The fact that we're eight years into the plan and really starting to think about housing in a significant way is unfortunate, but I wouldn't say it's surprising," Spies said. "It's risen in the priority list by virtue of us getting some other things done."
Discussions about the University's next capital projects include improvements in areas such as engineering and the physical sciences, though the need for academic investment does not exist across the board as it once did, Spies said.
"It was a tough competition to get into the capital backlog seven or eight years ago," he said.
Aside from renovations to 315 Thayer St., Spies said housing projects under consideration include adding new dormitories and a "program of renovations" for existing dorms, though plans are largely contingent on the generosity of donors.
An objective of the plan's second phase, released in 2008, is to increase the percentage of undergraduates living on campus from roughly 80 percent to 90 percent "as soon as financing allows."
A short term goal, Spies said, is increasing this number to about 85 percent, which would require an increase of about 300 students.
"Can we do that?" Spies said. "Yes. That's the kind of number we're trying to talk about now."