Today at noon, President Harvey Stenger is addressing the student body for his State of the University address. This year’s address is far more student-friendly than in previous years: Today’s speech will be a little over an hour, as opposed to speeches in years past, which went on for two or three hours and took place during winter breaks when students could not attend.
The biggest announcement Stenger will unveil today is the “20,000 by 2020” plan. As the name suggests, Stenger will be applying a “bigger is better” theory to student enrollment, increasing our school’s size from 16,000 total students to 20,000 in the next six years.
These numbers scared us at first. As undergraduates, our heads immediately filled with visions of overcrowded dining halls and forced triples. While these numbers seem shocking initially, the plan isn’t quite as radical as it sounds. The plan calls for an increase of 3,000 graduate students, which will double the current program, and an increase of only 1,000 undergraduate students.
In general, graduate students don’t live on campus and take the majority of their classes at night, so there is little to worry about in terms of dorm room occupancy and even longer lines in the dining halls.
However, we do have some concerns about other shared spaces on campus. How will the addition of 3,000 more graduate students affect lines at the East Gym or Jazzman’s? And where on God’s gray earth will everybody park?
We were also worried that adding 1,000 undergraduates would decrease our academic reputation. In part, President Stenger quelled those fears by saying that there will be a greater emphasis on retaining current students, rather than enrolling more freshmen.
Currently, Binghamton University has about an 80 percent retention rate, and Stenger told us that if we could just capture half of the extra 20 percent, it would get undergraduate enrollment up to where he wants it by 2020. Stenger also hopes to increase enrollment without lowering standards by making the school more attractive to the large numbers of students who get accepted but choose not to attend.
While we like that Stenger’s plans don’t include lowering the academic caliber of students solely to increase our numbers, it’s largely based on assumptions. It feels like wishful thinking to base our entire plan for growth on the hope that students will just stop leaving — especially in cases when enrolling at BU is a temporary move until their guaranteed transfer kicks in. We would hope that our new facilities (see Red Mango) and high-profile events (see Barack Obama) would help this, but these are all conjectures.
Can we really expect to grab the attention of the students who are also getting into Brandeis or Cornell? While we would like to think our facelift and new academic programs will attract them, once again, this may be over-idealistic.
But there’s also a lot of time between now and 2020, and anything from our reputation to the plan itself can change. We’re excited to watch these changes unfold, and with today’s address, we have a rare opportunity to be a part of it. So see for yourself, fellow Bearcats: Attend the State of the University speech — Stenger promised snacks — and over the next few years, keep yourself in the loop on the state of our University.