Mount Holyoke works to accommodate first-years

Photo by Anna Shortridge ’19  The now-closed Wilder Dining hall has been made into new dorm rooms.

Photo by Anna Shortridge ’19

The now-closed Wilder Dining hall has been made into new dorm rooms.

BY EMMA RUBIN ’20

As the college application season came to an end in the spring of 2018 and students around the world finalized their college decisions, Mount Holyoke’s Office of Admission noticed more enrollment deposits coming in than usual. 

Whereas the amount of official decision submissions often fluctuates, corresponding with visiting days or outreach events, Mount Holyoke found enrollment deposits consistently being received throughout April, according to Robin Randall, interim vice president for enrollment management. By May 1, the deadline for enrollment deposits at most schools, Mount Holyoke’s class of 2022 was overenrolled. 

The following months are known to admission teams as the “summer melt.” Waitlists and other last-minute changes cause some students to not attend the school where they initially made their deposit. However, for Mount Holyoke, the summer melt wasn’t quite melting enough, and according to the Office of Admission, by Aug. 15 the class of 2022 had a class size of 636, which is 86 students over the target class size.

In the following months, the college’s enrollment management group began making plans to  accommodate the incoming class with housing, course availability, resources, etc. One major change as a result of the increased enrollment is the renovation of several dorms. 

“Staff from Facilities and Residential Life got together to talk about where we could add rooms on campus,” said Nashalie Vazquez, associate director of Residential Life. “We looked at each building and identified spaces where there were several common rooms so that taking one or two [of these common spaces] would have a smaller impact on residents.” Vazquez confirmed that 54 beds in total were added across campus. 

Ava Provolo ’21 lives in a Brigham double this year. Although one of the dorm common rooms was remodeled during the summer and made into a double, she said that there is still plenty of room in the other common spaces. Still, she expressed some uncertainty about housing in future years with the increased enrollment. “It will definitely decrease the chances of me getting the dorm I want,” Provolo said. 

Three additional apartments available to students provide space for 16 residents. Three double rooms, two triple rooms and six single rooms added housing space in several traditional residence halls including Abbey, Brigham, Creighton, the Mandelles, Mead, Pearsons, the Rockies and Wilder. The renovations to residence halls are now complete, but there are still other construction projects occurring at Prospect for the Makerspace as well as Pearsons and the Rockies for exterior brickwork. 

Elizabeth Pyle from the Office of the Registrar confirmed that the office worked to add more capacity to Mount Holyoke courses. She said that in some cases this meant adding sections of popular courses and in others increasing thecapacity of existing sections. 

The admission rate for the class of 2022 remained within 1 percent of the rate for the class of 2021, a statistic that has mostly remained stagnant over the past four years, according to Randall. However, the yield — the amount of admitted students who actually enroll — was higher than anticipated during this admissions cycle. 

“As a matter of fact, this was the strongest yield ever,” Randall said. “And so the question has become, particularly for women’s colleges, is this the new normal?”

Randall noted that the uptick in the yield occurred not only at Mount Holyoke but was also a problem at other historically women’s colleges. She said that while this particular political moment might compel some students to attend historically women’s colleges, she also thinks Mount Holyoke is promoting what it can offer students more efficiently than in the past. “We’re doing a better job getting the message out about how decently engaged our students are, how successful they are, how they develop skill sets that are going to serve them well no matter what their chosen field is, and I think that is resonating really strongly,” she said.

With the hope of offsetting some of the over-enrollment, in June, first-year students joining in the fall semester were offered a chance to defer to spring semester with the incentive of a $3,580 credit for housing during that semester. Randall said that about 17 students deferred with that offer.  

While some departments required advanced preparation, others continue to follow business as usual. Despite crowds during meal rushes since classes have begun, Director of Dining Services Richard Perna said that although the size of the student population has increased, the Dining Commons “was built to to keep up with the capacity that we currently have.”  

Perna said that the additional students do not make managing the Dining Commons more difficult than in the past but that, “It takes proper planning to purchase enough food along with producing enough product.” 

Kathy Blaisdell, director of Student Financial Services, said that the increase in the student population does not necessarily mean a higher concentration of work- study eligible students. “Even though the class is bigger, the number who ended up with work-study eligibility is only about 10-12 students more than last year.” For that reason, the high enrollment of first-years will not likely complicate the availability of work-study jobs and shifts any more than past years. 

For the class of 2023, the Office of Admission is hoping to help offset the class of 2022’s size. Admission currently anticipates a target size of 525 students. “We will have this experience that will help inform and we will  be looking very carefully at our number of offers that we are willing to be putting on the table when we start,” Randall said.

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