The St. Lawrence Admissions Office mailed out the last enrollment decisions on Friday, March 16, marking the conclusion of the first year of its new admissions policy. The Policy was enacted to reduce the University’s deficit. The long-term implications of the new policy, which will ultimately admit more students, particularly more full-tuition students, are controversial. While the Admissions Office claims to be devoted to the integrity of St. Lawrence, some members of the community have raised concerns that the policy could inhibit students’ learning and living environment.
Jeff Rickey, vice president and dean of admissions & financial aid, claims that the Admission’s Office had “no trouble meeting—or exceeding—the quality of students [they] wanted.” Statistically, the mean GPA of admitted students is the same as it was a year ago. The average class rank and mean SAT/ACT test scores of admitted students are greater this year than last year. Rickey does acknowledge, however, that these are the statistics of accepted students, not enrolled students. Therefore, the statistics might not effectively represent the quality of students that will decide to come to St. Lawrence.
Despite the rising test scores, many remain apprehensive about the influx of new students, claiming they will overcrowd the community. Fred Exoo, chair of the Admissions and Financial Aid Committee, fears that the new policy will increase the number of students in the classroom and create a lack of community space. “It is easier to teach and learn in smaller classes,” Exoo said. “As the number of admitted students grows, there is less opportunity for small classes.” He added: “The lack of lounges and public space causes problems that are antisocial.”
While Exoo recognizes the gravity of these possibilities, the prospect of diverting back to what he refers to as “the poison ten” is worse. This term refers to the late 80s and early 90s, when the University was tuition desperate and willing to admit full pay students that would not normally qualify. Exoo hypothesizes that the University accepted a portion of these full-pay students despite the fact that they were not morally adequate, which helped create a culture of superiority, where the fraternity system “ran things on sexist and elitist values.” During this time, it was not uncommon for students “to trash fraternity houses, the campus and other students.”
Unlike during “the poison ten,” the Admission’s Office claims that it is unwilling to accept morally bankrupt individuals—regardless of the potential economic profit. “Because we do a holistic review, we look for signs of character and civility,” Rickey said. “We would never knowingly admit a student we know to be problematic to the University.”
Exoo expressed that some potential effects of the admissions policy could have been avoided if the school was willing to cut the budget, rather than accepting more students in an attempt to get more tuition. Widespread budget cutting, however, was rejected quickly—before extensive debate of what would be cut. Even as increased admission has been unable to completely stop the deficit, St. Lawrence chose to raise the tuition instead of undertaking massive budget cuts.
Failure to cut the budget and rising tuitions are not a St. Lawrence phenomenon. Don Soifer, from the Lexington Institute, asserts that budget ambiguity is a major public policy issue. “We have seen the tuition growth in particular, but have little information about the changes in the budget,” he said. While he does not believe in big government, Soifer contends that the government has a responsibility to ensure clarity. “Subject those who increase their tuition to increase transparency in their budget as well,” he argues.
The idea that government should interfere with tuition, however, is not a universal idea. George Leef, from The Pope Center, believes that the government should have no influence over college and university politics. He refers to previous government interference as one of the “greatest national mistakes.”
Specifically at St. Lawrence, however, the consequences of the new policy will show with time, as the plan cumulates the number of students each year. “It is still early in the game,” Exoo said. “We just finished the first year of a four year plan.”