Last fall, UConn received 34,000 applications for the class of 2019. There were only 3,500 open slots in the incoming freshman class, compared with two years ago when about 29,000 applied and 3,550 were accepted. Much to the university’s delight, last falls applicants were more talented academically; with a higher average SAT score. The diversity of applicants also increased, with about one third of the applicants from minority backgrounds. Last year’s applicants had also broken previous records in academic achievement and diversity as well. The increase in applicants is not only due to UConn’s successful recruitment efforts, but also because of the continued investment UConn has put into growing the school. However, growth is by no means guaranteed and poor decisions by the school or the state could fumble the improvements in UConn’s appeal.
The university is constantly playing a balancing act between the demand for more student housing and parking, and the desire to build structures unrelated to the academic mission of the school. Consider the plans for a new hockey rink. Does the school really need a 4,000 seat hockey rink? As it currently stands, the rink would be built upon space that was formerly used for parking or dorms. Any student who drives to or from campus knows how frustrating parking at UConn can be, and every student knows that there is currently a housing shortage. When planning for new buildings, more of an emphasis should be placed on the opportunity cost of space rather than a concern over funding. The university has to be more strategic with its use of space. Maybe, as some suggest, there is no room on campus for more stadiums.
Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that some of UConn’s most appealing characteristics are in jeopardy. The affordability of the school is threatened by rising tuition and a potential $40 million dollar shortfall in state-provided funds. Some additional buildings, such as the new recreational center will require a rise in student fees.
Debt is also a persistent problem for the school and the students. UConn itself is millions of dollars in debt and student debt also continues to rise. The housing capacity of the school is also in jeopardy. UConn plans to add 6,500 more students in coming years. However, housing is already so scarce that UConn at one point considered purchasing the Nathan Hale Inn for $9 million and turning the building into a dedicated dorm for over 200 students. Maybe adding 6,500 students is too ambitious of a goal for UConn.
Whenever any institution grows it has to face growing pains. Yet UConn can ease these pains by approaching growth in a more realistic and sustainable way.