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January 31, 2000

Trustee Committee Recommends Increasing Size of Undergraduate Body

PRINCETON, N.J. -- A special trustee committee has recommended that Princeton University increase the size of its undergraduate student body by approximately 10 percent (from 4,600 to 5,100) to "enhance the quality of the overall educational experience at Princeton and make more effective use of the University's extraordinary resources." The increase would be phased in over four years, probably beginning three or four years from now after additional dormitory and dining space has been constructed.

The committee was appointed in the fall of 1997 to consider a number of long-term strategic issues facing Princeton over the coming decade, including issues related to the size of the undergraduate student body, the undergraduate financial aid program, the Graduate School, the faculty, the administrative and support staffs, the University's physical resources, the University's financial resources, the use of new technologies and the Library. The chair of the committee is Paul M. Wythes, a charter trustee from California and a member of the Princeton Class of 1955.

"Princeton is distinctive among research universities in its commitments to undergraduate education and to a human scale that encourages opportunities for personal interaction," Wythes said. "Our recommendation is that the University should reaffirm these commitments. At the same time, we believe that Princeton can best meet these and other important goals if it increases each undergraduate class from its current size of roughly 1,150 to about 1,275."

"Princeton has no interest in becoming larger for the sake of being larger," Wythes added. "But it does have an interest in optimizing its contributions to higher education, to the world of scholarship, and to society in ways that are consistent with its mission. We believe Princeton should modestly increase the number of undergraduates it educates because, in doing so, it can enrich the overall experience of all its students and make fuller use of its educational resources without altering the fundamental nature of the Princeton undergraduate experience."

President Harold T. Shapiro *64, a member of the committee, said, "As part of its 250th anniversary, Princeton expanded its informal motto ‘in the nation's service' to also include ‘the service of all nations.' Princeton fulfills its mission through the teaching and scholarly activity of its faculty and through the students it educates, who go on to make leadership contributions in many fields&endash;in this country and around the world. The committee's proposal recognizes that Princeton has the capacity to provide its distinctive educational experience to a somewhat larger number of students, and therefore to make an even greater contribution to the society it serves."

In making its recommendation, the committee notes the following:

In addition to recommending an increase of 500 students in the undergraduate student body, the committee makes recommendations regarding the undergraduate financial aid program (increase support for middle-income families): the Graduate School (maintain current size, increase financial aid and improve training of graduate students as teachers); the faculty (controlled growth, with some redistribution of positions in selected fields and from senior to junior ranks); the administrative and support staffs ("achieve even greater administrative efficiency"); the University's physical resources (accelerate the dormitory renovation schedule); its financial resources (strengthen corporate and foundation fundraising and "continue the current trend of lowering tuition increases, as long as inflation remains under control and appropriate faculty compensation levels are achievable"); the use of new technologies ("develop as expeditiously as possible initiatives that can more fully extend the use of new technology in the University's teaching and research programs," including distance learning programs that initially would focus on alumni but eventually would reach broader audiences); and the Library ("assure that staff members are able to keep pace with rapid changes in information technology").

The committee begins its report by reviewing the recommendations of the 1993 Strategic Plan and other recent trustee reviews of strategic issues; the growth in Princeton's educational, scholarly and support programs and in its physical and financial assets over recent years; and the large number of actions Princeton has taken over the past 10-12 years to improve the undergraduate curriculum. It also incorporates an essay by President Shapiro on external factors that may have an influence on Princeton and on higher education in general in the decades immediately ahead.

The committee ends its report by noting that its work "has been guided by two overarching principles. The first is our obligation to exercise responsible stewardship of the exceptional resources that Princeton has accumulated over many years and to assure that they will be sustained and strengthened into the future. We are persuaded that the budgetary and management policies and procedures currently in place, augmented by those recommended in this report, will allow us to meet this obligation, even in the challenging and ever-changing environment of the first years of the 21st century."

"Second, in asking whether there were initiatives Princeton should undertake to make optimal use of its remarkable resources and whether Princeton should extend its educational and scholarly reach, our answers to both questions were "yes." For reasons enumerated in our report, we believe that Princeton should increase the size of its undergraduate student body by approximately 125 students per class; that it should enhance its financial aid programs for both undergraduate and graduate students; that it should take further steps to strengthen the faculty and the administrative, support and other staffs; that it should extend its educational and scholarly reach, both on campus and off, through enhanced technologies; and that it should take a number of other steps that, individually and collectively, will enable Princeton to serve even better its students and alumni, the nation and the world."

The committee met 25 times, including four all-day, off campus meetings, in developing its recommendations and discussed them at length with the full Board of Trustees on four occasions, including the November 1999 and January 2000 meetings. The committee formally presented its report to the board at its January 29, 2000 meeting, with a request that the board act on it at its April 15, 2000 meeting.

President Shapiro said, "The Wythes Committee has made a number of important recommendations that will bring new strength and vitality to Princeton, that will increase its capacity to achieve its fundamental objectives, and that will prepare Princeton for the challenges of the new century. As the committee points out, the modern history of higher education vividly demonstrates that if an institution does not evolve with changing times, it cannot retain either its distinction or its social relevance. While retaining its historic emphasis on excellence in undergraduate education, Princeton needs to continue to expand into new intellectual fields, develop new courses of study, remain accessible to a broad range of students from all economic backgrounds and reach out in new ways to alumni and others through new technologies. This report provides us with an excellent blueprint to achieve these goals."

In addition to Paul Wythes and President Shapiro, the committee included trustees Jon E. Barfield '74, Dennis J. Keller '63, Karen Magee '83, Edward E. Matthews '53, Robert S. Murley '72, Robert H. Rawson, Jr. '66, John H. Scully '66, Sejal A. Shah '95 and John J.F. Sherrerd '52, Provost Jeremiah P. Ostriker served as secretary to the committee.


Full text of the report: