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The benefits of increased enrollment

| Friday, January 25, 2019

As the anxiety of study abroad decisions set in for the sophomore class this past weekend, I was reminded of the crippling stress I experienced my senior year of high school, awaiting various packages that would determine my future.

College admissions: a hell I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. Perhaps, I simply didn’t handle the uncertainty well, but having talked to countless high school and college classmates, it seemed as though the end of our high school years — a time meant to be spent checking off our bucket lists and making countless memories — was too often spent poring over college admissions statistics and focusing on packing in as many impressive accomplishments as possible into a few tabs on the Common App.

To make a long story short, obviously things worked out. However, having completed three semesters here at Notre Dame and being bombarded with countless reminders of the school’s mission to be a “force for good in the world,” I’m often left wondering if that mission could extend well before students even enroll here. Notre Dame has the unique opportunity, as an institution deeply rooted in its identity as both an elite research and Catholic voice in education, to reject higher education’s trend of rising tuition and plummeting acceptance rates.

Every year over 15,000 students receive small letters in the mail informing them that they will not be admitted to Notre Dame and for many, crushing their dreams in the process. Obviously, selectivity is important to ensuring the quality and commitment of the admitted students and the exclusivity of the application process effectively helps create and intimate campus community.

However, of those thousands of rejected students, many of them are extremely qualified and would make great contributions to the Notre Dame community. Increasing the number of accepted students by even 1,000 would maintain the acceptance rate in the low 20s. More importantly though, if Notre Dame believes in the value and success of their mission in educating a generation of holistic leaders, shouldn’t acceptance rates fall secondary to the opportunity to maximize that effect?

Although increasing the undergraduate acceptance rate would likely require the construction of more dorms and potentially affect the intimacy of the campus experience, it would solve several logistical issues and enhance the community and environment on campus.

Like many schools of similar prestige, Notre Dame finds itself at the center of a debate between tradition and progress. Although not fundamentally antithetical to each other, the honoring of tradition through preferential treatment to legacy students can serve as an obstacle to the mission to diversify the school community when the alumni pool is largely homogenous. This is not to suggest that tradition isn’t valuable. Tradition is one of the defining characteristics and greatest draws to Notre Dame. It’s one of the reasons Notre Dame alumni are considered some of the best in the country and in the spirit of full disclosure, I am a beneficiary of this preferential selection, being a legacy student myself. However, expanding the current class size would allow more room to still educate a similar number of legacy students while also increasing the number of minorities or students of marginalized groups. While we’re on the topic, this could increase the number of legacy admissions even if it resulting in a lower acceptance rate for legacy students.

There’s no denying that despite the administration’s efforts, diversity remains an issue here on campus. And I don’t just mean racial diversity, although that is an issue. According to a 2017 New York Times article, Notre Dame ranked 13th in terms of schools with the largest enrollment disparity between students from the top one percent and students from the bottom 60 percent. Additionally, Notre Dame continues to try to attract students from a broad range of backgrounds but still struggles to shed its image as a primarily white, upper-class, Catholic community.

Finally, the exclusivity of the Mendoza College of Business with required direct admittance and transfer applications is largely due to concerns over maintaining other majors enrollment numbers. A larger student body would better enable those smaller majors to thrive without the same competition.

The rate at which campus is expanding in term of buildings and the rising pressure to accommodate both tradition and diversity make the present the perfect time to increase enrollment. If we as a community believe in the integrity of the school’s mission and the quality of education each member receives and contributes to while acknowledging the large number of qualified students that never have the chance to experience Notre Dame, then we won’t be threatened by the murmurs of competition and exclusivity on the basis of prestige.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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