March 17, 2017

GUEST ROOM | Kotlikoff on Housing and Enrollment

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Last fall, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi and I met with faculty, staff and students to outline a plan for addressing student housing on our Ithaca campus. This plan arose from a comprehensive review of student housing, including surveys and meetings with students, faculty and staff, and was the result of a decision by Cornell’s leadership to focus on improving the student experience — one of our three major strategic goals.

The university guarantees on-campus housing for all freshmen and sophomores, but despite the fact that our residence halls operate at nearly 100 percent occupancy, we do not have sufficient university housing to meet the demand for on-campus housing of almost half of our sophomores. Cornell’s insufficient housing capacity results in a stressful situation for many first-year students, who are faced with the challenge of finding off-campus housing for their sophomore year within their first weeks on our campus. Operating at full capacity also prevents us from taking beds offline to address deferred maintenance, resulting in a significant backlog of deferred maintenance in our campus residences. The Housing Master Plan presented last fall addresses both capacity and maintenance in a way that will ensure housing for freshmen and sophomores and create appropriate residential environments for each class year.

Achieving this goal will require the addition of new housing and dining facilities on North Campus, as well as the ongoing renovation of existing residential buildings. An additional component of the plan involves working with city officials to identify ways to improve off-campus housing for students living in Collegetown. By making this investment, we hope to create better student housing options, decrease first-year stress, and enhance the living-learning experience.

While addressing housing needs for our current and future students, the plan also provides the university with added flexibility to accommodate an increase in undergraduate enrollment.  Pressure to modestly increase our undergraduate student population arises from several new academic programs and shifts in existing majors. We have launched programs such as Biomedical Engineering and have hired new faculty without an attendant increase in student enrollment. Similarly, applications to the Dyson School have more than doubled since creation of the Cornell S.C. Johnson College of Business without any added enrollment. More students are also needed in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences to address recent shifts in majors. We anticipate admitting 275 more freshmen beginning in 2020. This increase in enrollment will not only make a Cornell education available to more students, but will also create opportunities for greater academic investment, helping to further advance Cornell’s academic stature and our research and outreach missions.
Increased enrollment will necessitate careful evaluation of our existing majors, student support services and undergraduate curricula. We have begun a comprehensive study of our Gateway Courses, and the College of Arts and Sciences, under the leadership of Dean Gretchen Ritter, is undertaking a comprehensive curriculum review. Moreover, we are planning significant investments in faculty and staff, as well as in upgrading our major academic buildings and classrooms. Together with the university’s investments in academic programming and faculty hiring, the benefits of improved housing and infrastructure investments will improve the student experience and advance Cornell’s reputation as a premier teaching and research institution.


Michael Kotlikoff has served as provost of Cornell University since 2015, and briefly served as acting president in 2016. Guest Room runs periodically throughout the semester. Comments may be sent to [email protected]