The Yale Corporation this weekend authorized the addition of two new residential colleges, officially setting into motion the University’s largest expansion since co-education four decades ago.

Yale College will grow by about 15 percent as part of the expansion, which University President Richard Levin announced in an e-mail message to the community on Saturday morning. The new colleges are expected to open in 2013.

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“This expansion,” Levin wrote, “will allow us to make an even greater contribution to society by preparing a larger number of talented and promising students of all backgrounds for leadership and service.”

The official authorization by the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, amounts to little more than a formality, as Levin and Corporation members had endorsed the prospect of expansion in February, curtailing any suspense as to whether the plan would move forward.

It also comes in spite of widespread criticism from students, who questioned whether the Prospect Street location of the new colleges would isolate their students from the rest of campus, or that the expansion might shatter Yale’s treasured intimacy or overburden its faculty. With that no longer a matter up for discussion, the great debate next school year is likely to be over the names of the colleges — and the architects who should be hired to construct them.

Controversy aside, the authorization nonetheless marks a historic moment in Levin’s 15-year tenure, the last 10 years of which the president has spent working behind the scenes to bring today’s announcement to fruition. With a $22.5 billion endowment and its lowest admissions rate in history, Yale is “well poised” to expand, as the president put it.

In the message, Levin charted the rise in Yale’s selectivity over the decades and made the case that expanding access to the University is a prudent step to further its mission.

“The aim of this education is the cultivation of citizens with a rich awareness of our heritage to lead and serve in every sphere of human activity,” Levin said. “Today, we have a long queue of highly qualified applicants who collectively would allow Yale to make an even greater contribution to society if more could be educated here.”

A Renaissance for Science Hill?

The colleges, to be located behind the Grove Street Cemetery along Prospect Street, will allow the University to increase the size of the undergraduate enrollment by some 15 percent while also easing overcrowding in the existing residential colleges, a step administrators say they hope will largely eliminate the dreaded annexing of upperclassmen.

Students have criticized the expansion on a number of fronts, and in his message Saturday, Levin promised that the University would take those concerns to heart.

With the expansion, Yale will increase the size of its faculty, expand its advising system and add amenities like classroom space, a gym and a theater to Science Hill in an effort to make the location of the new colleges more hospitable, he said.

Levin argued that the expansion will have the dual purpose of better integrating Science Hill into what students today consider the central campus, a point administrators have seized upon in recent months in arguing in favor of the colleges’ location.

$3.5 Billion ‘Within Reach’

As expected, the Corporation also authorized an increase in the goal of the Yale Tomorrow capital campaigning, bumping its aim from $3 billion to $3.5 billion to help support the expansion. The increase in the goal of Yale Tomorrow was not unexpected, as the campaign is already a full year ahead of schedule and did not include the new colleges among its initial fundraising priorities.

Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach said Saturday that she expects Yale’s benefactors to react “not just positively, but enthusiastically” in supporting the residential college expansion.

“Based on the experience of the campaign to date, and a careful review of the opportunities of the next three years, we are confident that a $ 3.5 billion goal is within reach,” Reichenbach said. “We believe we will be able to maintain the annual totals of about $500 million in commitments that will get us over the $3.5 billion goal.”

Levin said the University has already secured $140 million in gifts and pledges for the new colleges, a promising start considering the Corporation has already ruled that unlike as with most other Yale buildings, donors will not be allowed to attach their names to the new colleges.

In fact, the question of what the colleges will be named is poised to become the great debate of the 2008-’09 school year, now that students can no longer occupy themselves arguing over whether Yale should be expanding in the first place. Administrators have promised that the community will be able to weigh in with suggestions for whom the new colleges should honor.

A Call For Student Input

Yale College Council President Rich Tao ’10 said he hopes Yale officials will take students’ views into account on more issues than just that question.

“As opposed to treating the recognition of student opinion as a mere formality — as the administration has done at certain instances in the past few months — President Levin and others involved with the expansion need to sincerely and substantively incorporate the student body into the actual decision-making process,” Tao said Saturday.

“At the end of the day,” he added, “the crux of the expansion boils down to questions regarding how it will affect the day-to-day life of students, and who better to turn to regarding student issues than concerned and educated students themselves?”

Indeed, there is much still to decide, as the Corporation’s authorization does little more than to set the ball rolling on what will be a five-year effort leading up to the expected opening of the new colleges in September 2013.

For instance, another looming question — and one that administrators will move to decide over the coming months — is which architect will be hired to design the two new colleges. (They are expected to comprise what could be the most expensive single construction project Yale has ever undertaken.) A preliminary budget projection put their cost at close to $600 million, which would make them the most expensive residence halls ever erected on an American college campus.

More precise information about the cost, naming and architecture of the new colleges is expected to emerge over the coming months. But in the meantime, this much is official: Yale is now on its way to becoming a world of 14 colleges — officially.

Levin closed his message with a reflection on the heritage of class of 1897 graduate Edward H. Harkness, who provided the funds to create the residential college system in the first place.

“Since then … the student body has doubled, women have been enrolled, and young people have been welcomed from more than 100 nations,” Levin said. “Remarkably, the members of this vast and vibrant enterprise still consider themselves part of a family. This is Harkness’s great legacy, and one that we will preserve in a new era of expansion.”

Previous News coverage of Yale’s path to fourteen colleges:

  • Corporation to vote on new colleges this weekend (6.6.08)
  • Alumni mount campaign for Swensen’s name on new college (4.18.08)
  • Corp. discusses colleges (4.15.08)
  • Yale Corp. will not vote on new colleges (4.11.08)
  • To Grove Street Cemetery: Tear down that wall (4.4.08)
  • Decision to bar donors’ names from colleges sets Yale apart (4.1.08)
  • Morse, Stiles beat out Taft and Webster (4.1.08)
  • Yale Tomorrow may raise goal (3.28.08)
  • Sociology Dept. to look for new home if colleges built (3.7.08)
  • YPD likely to grow with expansion (3.7.08)
  • New college names are not for sale (2.29.08)
  • More lab spaces a must for expansion (2.29.08)
  • With growth, hope to drop the ‘Science’ from the Hill (2.27.08)
  • Levin eyed expansion for 10 years (2.26.08)
  • Corporation endorses colleges, orders expansion studies (2.25.08)
  • At Woodbridge Hall, a rare face-to-face (2.25.08)
  • Princeton offers cues to college construction (2.25.08)
  • Corp. to meet today for vote (2.22.08)
  • Univ. sees Prospect as only viable site (2.20.08)
  • Expansion plans call for eliminating annexation (2.20.08)
  • Locals in dark on colleges (2.20.08)
  • Report identifies necessary changes (2.19.08)
  • Students indignant over dinner (2.19.08)
  • Expansion: Not if, but when (2.15.08)
  • Committees set to release reports (2.14.08)
  • Elis remain lukewarm about college expansion (2.11.08)
  • On student minds, Rihanna — not residential growth (1.31.08)
  • Corporation to meet once more before Feb. vote (12.7.07)
  • Veteran Sledge pushes for expansion of student body (12.5.07)
  • More Elis could opt to go abroad (12.4.07)
  • Increased enrollment could bolster sciences (11.30.07)
  • Improved city relations may enable expansion (11.30.07)
  • Univ. to conduct student poll (11.8.07)
  • Current course models to change with growth (11.8.07)
  • Students mixed on expansion (11.5.07)
  • Gym could be built on Hill (11.1.07)
  • Size increase would alter department profiles (11.1.07)
  • Decades ago, two new colleges greeted eagerly (10.31.07)
  • Enrollment would rise 12 percent (10.29.07)
  • At forums, Elis focus on location of proposed site (10.26.07)
  • Few attend forum about new colleges (10.25.07)
  • Expansion projected at $600M (10.23.07)
  • Colleges decision delayed (9.6.07)
  • Ivies plan for future growth (4.30.07)
  • Alumni discuss naming (4.18.07)
  • Donors talk new colleges (4.11.07)
  • YPU debates new colleges (2.16.07)
  • Alumni back new colleges (2.13.07)
  • Study of colleges picks up (2.9.07)
  • Growth may cut annexing (10.30.06)
  • New colleges cause local stir (10.17.06)
  • New colleges may line Prospect St. (10.10.06)
  • Space frees up in Grove Street area (10.2.06)
  • Univ. mulls effects of potential expansion (9.29.06)
  • Study on expansion accelerates (9.25.06)
  • New colleges would help to ease current crowding (2.27.04)