Alumni back new colleges

As Yale begins formal deliberations about the possibility of adding two new residential colleges, alumni seem enthusiastic about the prospect of the University’s growth.

Although a possible expansion of Yale College would affect future generations of Elis, the University would have to call on its alumni to bankroll the effort. In interviews with about a dozen alumni, most said they would support the construction of new colleges to alleviate crowding in existing student housing and to increase the number of students who could benefit from an education at Yale.

While initial estimates are rough, it is clear that Yale would need significant support to expand its physical plant. The cost of constructing the new colleges alone would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, University President Richard Levin said in an interview last week. Augmenting the overall infrastructure of the University to support an additional 600 to 800 undergraduates would likely add much more to the bill. When the two most recently erected residential colleges — Morse and Ezra Stiles — were opened to students in the early 1960s, the number of Yale College students did not increase significantly as a result.

Many graduates who have come back to New Haven for reunions said they were shocked at the cramped configurations of rooms on Old Campus and in the existing colleges. Several alumni said the most important reason to expand would be alleviating crowding and annexing.

“I remember being housed on the Old Campus during our 25th [reunion], and being really aghast at how they’d carved up the apartments into much tinier spaces — less room for more students,” Tom Devine ’67 said in an e-mail. “Yale students deserve better than that.”

Alumni varied in their opinions of just how many students Yale should take in on top of the 5,300 undergraduates currently enrolled. The University has a smaller undergraduate program than most of the seven other Ivy League schools — only Princeton University and Dartmouth College have fewer undergraduates.

In addition, Yale College had the most competitive admissions cycle in the Ivy League last year, accepting 8.6 percent of applicants. Applications dropped this year, but given the general hyper-competitiveness of getting into Yale, some graduates expressed hope that increasing the student body would give more people the opportunity to attend the University.

“The current admissions rate hurts everyone,” William Wright ’82 said. “It hurts alumni children as much as anyone else.”

A delicate balance must be struck when increasing the student population, Laurence Whittemore ’51 said. Much of Yale’s character is preserved by its small size, and while an increase could be beneficial, it must be modest, he said. Although he attended Yale when there were only 10 colleges, he said, he does not think 14 colleges are too many.

All of those interviewed said they thought the body of Yale alumni would be financially supportive of an expansion of the College. Already, Yale has the highest endowment per student — over $1.3 million — of any college except for Princeton. But maintaining this high resource-to-student ratio in the future is something that must be actively considered by the Corporation and the administration, Cary Koplin ’66 said.

“I pray that [Yale endowment manager] Dave Swensen lives to be 100 and stays interested,” Koplin said. “I’m hoping that Yale will have the alumni support to commit to the undergraduate experience.”

Considering how much to increase the size of the student body will be the responsibility of two committees — one examining the academic implications of expansion, the other focusing on the implications on student life — that Levin will convene this semester.

—Zachary Abrahamson contributed to this report.

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