The past several years have seen record applications, acceptances, and enrollment at Rensselaer. For the most part, this is a positive trend. RPI’s position as a “New Ivy” has resulted in higher demand for RPI, by both students and employers.
While we are thrilled with RPI’s increased popularity, we are also concerned with the Institute’s ability to meet this new demand. With incoming class sizes continually growing, introductory courses are seeing record enrollment all around. Courses which have always been large, such as Calculus I and II, may not have had that much trouble adjusting, but courses which require more student-teacher interaction are struggling to adapt. The introductory computer science courses Computer Science I and Data Structures are examples of courses where it’s not enough to have just a lecture and recitation. These types of classes typically require more interaction between students and their instructors and mentors. With more lab sections and larger lab sizes, mentors are finding it difficult to give students the individual attention they need.
RPI is also seeing more strain on its on-campus housing. Since freshmen and sophomores are required to live on campus, residence halls are more populated than ever. Halls that used to be solely for upperclassmen have opened their doors to sophomores, and halls that were once sophomore only, Davison Hall in particular, are now freshman housing.
The worst case, however, is if the classes become so large that RPI actually runs out of housing. If this scenario happens, the most likely course of action is that the overflow students would be put in City Station. For undergraduates, this likely means that they are separated from their friends by being down the hill. More importantly, it means that some students will be forced into the more expensive housing in Blitman and City Station, which is less than ideal for many.
While we certainly can’t predict for certain what the future has in store for RPI, we are worried for the Institute. While growth in enrollment is a positive sign of demand from students, the increased class sizes are worrisome without growth from the Institute itself. Larger classes could potentially lead to a lower quality education if students struggle to get the help and attention they need, and while housing may not seem like a big deal right now, displacing students across Freshman Hill, the Houston Field House area, Blitman Residence Commons, and City Station significantly fragments the student population across campus.