Roughly three years ago, the college put together a task force to grapple with the slow increase in enrollment they observed. Class sizes had been growing by about 10 people every year to deal with budgetary pressures.
The committee of professors and administrators asked, should Lafayette stop the gradual creep? Should Lafayette decrease enrollment? Should Lafayette embrace its growth and do it deliberately?
In the 2014 Report on Enrollment Size and Program Capacity, the college explored the pros and cons of each option. Soon after, the board voted. Lafayette decided to find a way to deliberately expand.
“If you look at schools like us, I think staying the same size is a bigger threat,” Vice President of Enrollment and Financial Aid Greg MacDonald said. “I think there’s going to be significant changes in the coming decade, and those who don’t solidify their market position are at risk of losing their market position.”
“I think it’s already starting,” continued MacDonald, who also served on the task force. “There are small colleges that are being acquired or merging with other colleges, and those colleges in the weakest financial state are going to go first. There’s going to be contraction. And we’ve seen that small colleges in rural areas and single-sex institutions are having difficulty maintaining their enrollments.”
Lafayette does not struggle maintaining enrollment. But considering applications have risen 45 percent in the last six years and the acceptance rate has inched downward, college officials find that focusing on bringing more people to campus will enhance their market position.
In expanding, however, the college does not want to admit only those who can pay full tuition.
“The goal to admit students regardless of their ability to self-fund their education is an important goal, but we also want to be slightly larger to attract a more geographically, academically diverse student body,” MacDonald said. “It would be easier to do that if we could be in a more need-blind, less need-aware environment than we are now.”
Lafayette admissions is need-aware, but they meet 100 percent of demonstrated aid. That means that application readers will only admit those people who can pay, sometimes with aid.
In this academic year, the annual financial aid budget stood at $43.3 million. The college calculated in 2014 that another roughly $20 million would be required to remove ability to pay from the admissions decision. Four components of the expansion are meant to hit this target, which will increase over time.
The total student body will be increased from 2,500 to 2,900. The average Lafayette student pays roughly 62 percent of tuition price, so 400 more students bring in roughly $12 million more in tuition. About $4 million of that will go toward the goal.
Many of the expansion plans are driven by this student body increase. The McCartney Street dorm, which was recently approved by Easton but does not have a price tag yet, will house 550 students to accommodate the loss of deterioration of other dorms or apartments.
Academic space will be accommodated mainly by the $75 million Rockwell Integrated Science Center to be built between Acopian and Watson. A donation campaign will fund $30 million, a donation received three-and-a-half years ago will fund $25 million and $20 million will be held in debt.
The 2014 report noted that the college wanted to increase enrollment in the humanities and social sciences, although there are no plans to build academic space for those disciplines.
Additionally, every year, one percentage point of the tuition increase will go straight into the financial aid budget. Next year, tuition will increase by 4 percent from $48,450. With a student body of roughly 2,500 students, that means roughly $1.2 million of the goal is covered. With 2,900, about $1.5 million.
Over time, the college will aim for this to cover 21 percent of the goal. Vice President of Finance Roger Demareski said that tuition will not increase more just because there is another goal for the increase.
The college plans that roughly a quarter of the additional financial aid will be covered by a reallocation of merit-based aid. This includes Marquis Scholarships, Marquis Fellowships and Posse scholarships. Marquis scholarships and fellowships have been decreasing for many years, because merit aid is no longer needed to entice students to come to Lafayette, according to MacDonald.
Students and faculty last year pressured administration to reconsider reallocating Posse scholarship funds to financial aid, after a three-hour open forum. The college said it would reconsider next year or the year after.
Audience members at open meetings have voiced a concern that merit scholarships are being decreased while athletic scholarships are not. Merit aid composes 15 percent of the financial aid budget, and Athletic scholarships compose 21 percent, according to Director of Financial Aid Ashley Bianchi.
College officials said that there is no discussion to decrease athletic scholarships, because the college is committed to the Patriot League. There is no minimum number of scholarships to remain in the Patriot League, according to Athletic Director Bruce McCutcheon.
“Lafayette was amongst the last holdouts in terms of deciding to offer scholarships,” Vice President of Campus Life Annette Diorio wrote in an email, “and we have fairly good data to suggest that impacted our competitiveness which directly impacts the experience of the students.”
The fourth component will come from fundraising. Vice President of Development Kim Spang said that the previous $60 million goal in the capital campaign was raised to $85 million for this reason. Taking 5 percent from the endowment each year, as is standard with any college endowment, means $4.5 million could go toward the need-blind goal each year.
Additional fundraising, such as the 1826 Scholarship Fund introduced with the President’s Challenge in March, will help cover 30 percent of the goal.
It’s unclear whether the financial aid office has started to see the effect of the fundraising and the reallocation of money. Admissions plans that next year’s class will be its biggest, in the 680s. Just under 200 applications were turned down because the student could not pay tuition.
“We did see [the extra funding] in early decision,” MacDonald said. “We had more money to spend there, and we were able to take some students. We are seeing the benefits of the increased aid without a doubt.”
Next year’s financial aid budget will be roughly $46.9 million. MacDonald said that even if need-blindness is not met, becoming less need-aware is beneficial, but there won’t be a fixed target every year.
“You’ll know when you’ve taken every last student, regardless of their ability to pay,” he said.