March 4, 2005

College gets Big

I was doing a little searching around on the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act information page the other day. It's an interesting resource that gives you the opportunity to see the number of athletes on different college teams as well as the number of full and part time coaches along with the expenses of each team. For example, Duke University spent $1.5 million on basketball last year and under $35,000 on wrestling. It's a little bit sickening, but that's not what I'm here to talk about.

What I'm here to talk about is the other site I stumbled upon, the IPEDS COOL college search site. Here, you can get information about enrollment, acceptance, test scores, graduation rates, and a lot of other statistics that are hard to find elsewhere. They are reported to the Federal Government as one condition on continuing to receive Federal Aid. For example, you can find out that less than 2/3 of Messiah College full time freshmen graduated within four years in the latest report. This likely includes transfers and dropouts, but still. The actual number was 64.6%, which jumped up to 71.4% if stretched out to 6 years. Also, in six year's time men graduated at a 75.8% rate compared to 69% for the women. Before getting alarmed, let's check some comparably sized schools.

Elizabethtown: 60% for 4 years, 69% for 6
Lebanon Valley: 61% and 69%
Gettysburg: 71% and 75%
Lycoming: 56% and 66%
Taylor: 67% and 77%
Wheaton: 77% and 86%
Lancaster Bible: 30% and 48%

So, you can see that Messiah is not doing too badly here for a school of its size. I included LBC because I was curious. There is all sorts of good information here that is often more accurate than what you'll find in college guides or even reported on a college's web site. Searching here I found that my alma mater accepted 83% of freshman applicants for the Fall of 2004, of which 40% accepted admission and enrolled as full-time students. The middle 50% of these scored between 1080 and 1310 on the old SAT.

I don't really have a problem with any of that. The school doesn't seem to be suffering for allowing 80% of applicants to be admitted. The problem is that the school has been trying to grow for the past 8 years or so without adding any on-campus student housing. There are a few places in downtown Harrisburg they are encouraging seniors to use, but overall, almost all students live on campus, which results in all freshmen and many sophomores tripled up in tiny rooms. Since the Fall of 1999, the school has over 150 more students on the Grantham campus to fit into roughly the same number of rooms. Comparing just the advertised occupancy with the actual shows and overflow of 62 students based on Fall 2004 data. This is dubious to me, as the advertised occupancy seems to have taken into account the number of students in tripled rooms and counted them as normal. What I really need is someone to go through each dorm and count the number of rooms so I can get a good estimate of the intended occupancy. The apartments are ok for now, as they have not yet, to my knowledge, been overpopulated. Suffice it to say that there are far more students in the dorms than originally intended based on the size of the rooms.

The school needs to build another residence hall of some kind. Apartments or a dorm would be ok in my book to alleviate the fact that nearly all 694 freshmen in the Fall of 2004 were put into tripled rooms designed for double occupancy. Assuming 100% triples, that equates to an overflow of just over 230 students, and that is not taking into account the smaller number of tripled sophomores. What this means is that in order to get just the freshmen back into double rooms would require building another dorm the size of Witmer, the largest dorm on campus, and even that might not get every student into a double room.

If Messiah wants to grow, I say go right ahead. People know the school and think well of it, but the school must accomodate the larger number of students by building living space for them. There is plenty of land on which to do so back toward the fitness trail and across the train tracks on the rec fields. To their credit, building the Larsen Student Union and Boyer Academic building was a step that was necessary to grow, but the next step must be taken so that the students who congregate in the union and attend classes in the state-of-the-art buildings have a place to sleep.

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