Yale maintains residential college system, financial aid strength, and excellence in teaching through undergraduate expansion

The addition of Benjamin Franklin College and Pauli Murray College will enable nearly 800 more students to study at Yale every year.
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A view of the new colleges along Prospect Street. (Courtesy dbox/RAMSA)

When the next class of freshmen arrives in New Haven in August 2017, the students will bring with them a wealth of experiences, passions, talents, and strengths. As in the past, each incoming freshman will be randomly assigned to a residential college that will become a core piece of the student’s experience and identity for four years. Unlike the students before them, freshmen arriving on campus next fall will be assigned to 14 residential colleges instead of 12.

With the addition of Benjamin Franklin College and Pauli Murray College, Yale will expand its total undergraduate enrollment by approximately 15% to 6,200, enabling nearly 800 additional students to study at Yale every year.

The university’s decision to expand Yale College — the university’s single undergraduate school — has been in the works for more than a decade. The Yale Corporation, the university’s official governing body, began considering a proposal to expand enrollment by building two new residential colleges in 2006. Following extensive study and conversations with students, faculty, and staff, the Corporation officially approved the plan in the summer of 2008.

Groundbreaking on the colleges was delayed because of the 2008 financial crisis, but in 2013 an unprecedented $250 million gift from alumnus Charles Johnson ’54 enabled planning to resume in earnest. In the fall of 2013, newly inaugurated President Peter Salovey called for the creation of the Committee on Yale College Expansion to provide guidance on four critical areas: undergraduate teaching resources; classrooms, laboratories, and extracurricular spaces; seminars and advising; and the Yale College experience. The committee presented its recommendations in spring 2014, and construction began a few months later.

Dean of Yale College Jonathan Holloway has made preparing for the larger student body one of the administration’s top priorities. “This expansion touches on every aspect of learning, including teaching, facilities, and financial aid,” Holloway said, “it also provides a historic opportunity to engage the community in asking what it means to receive an education from Yale.”

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan commented, “Everyone at Yale is excited about the new residential colleges, but no one is more excited that the staff at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.”

In the past nine years Yale’s applicant pool has grown from 22,500 to nearly 31,500. Quinlan noted that this growth has been driven largely by students from traditionally under-represented backgrounds, especially students who identify as a member of a minority racial/ethnic group, students who will be the first in their families to graduate from college, and students from low-income households. These students already make up a significantly larger percentage of the student body than they did a few years ago, explained Quinlan, “but expanding enrollment will provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shake up the zero-sum process that limits everything in selective admissions. A larger student body will allow us to offer a Yale education to more students from an even more diverse collection of backgrounds.”

The expansion will also allow more students to benefit from Yale’s need-based financial aid policies, which meet 100% of demonstrated financial need for all students — American and international — with awards that do not require students to take out loans. The university’s provost has already allocated funds to ensure that Yale’s commitment to financial aid remains in place, even with 800 more students. The university recently announced that it surpassed its fundraising goal for Access Yale, a two-year campaign to support financial aid. The $285 million raised through this initiative will provide critical support for the larger class in Yale College. In recent years Yale has made a special effort to assist students from the lowest-income households, by eliminating parent contributions for families with less than $65,000 in annual income and launching a new Yale College Start-Up Fund to assist dozens of new students with purchasing a computer, winter clothing, and other expenses.

At the core of the Yale College expansion is the creation of two new complete residential colleges. Like Yale’s existing 12 colleges, each will have its own dining hall, common room, courtyards, and student suites. Yale’s residential college system creates a dynamic bridge between undergraduate academic and social life. Each close-knit community serves as a microcosm of the Yale community, while preserving the intimacy of a smaller college experience. The residential colleges are among the most diverse communities at Yale, and they are also the most significant in the everyday lives of students. Faculty and students in the colleges form an integrated support system, with advising, seminars, and activities that encourage students’ academic and extracurricular interests. Now more than 80 years old, Yale’s residential college system is perhaps the most distinctive feature of undergraduate life at Yale. Students in the new residential colleges will have the unique opportunity to establish new traditions that may stay with the colleges for future generations.

New students will benefit from many initiatives and projects that will have a direct impact on undergraduate student life. In the past two years alone Yale has announced a $20 million expansion of the Department of Computer Science; a $20 million endowment for the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design; plans to create “a new home for the humanities” in the 320 York St. building featuring Swensen Tower; plans to build a new science building with more than 280,000 square feet of space for collaborative work across disciplines; plans to build a world-class campus center that will create new traditions of student engagement across all schools; and an increase in the size of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to 700.

At his inauguration in 2013, Salovey expressed his enthusiasm for the new chapter in Yale College’s history: “We have the opportunity to extend Yale’s reach to more outstanding young people in our country and abroad. Yale has never had a stronger faculty; we have invested billions of dollars in our facilities; and we are fortunate to have remarkably generous alumni, parents, and friends. There are so many students reaching out for the opportunity of a Yale College education, applicants who now only can tour our campus as visitors, peering through the gates at beautiful courtyards and humbled by the vastness of Yale’s library and gallery collections. We can offer some of them a life-changing experience, and we should.”

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