Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi discuss a plan to address student housing on the Ithaca campus while advancing investments in academic initiatives.
What does Cornell need in terms of student housing?
Lombardi: We’ve spent the last year studying the housing situation on the Ithaca campus, talking with students, alumni, staff, faculty, and the Ithaca and Tompkins County communities to get a sense of the opportunities and the needs in student housing. We launched the Housing Master Plan in January 2016, engaged with consultants in that process and have identified a number of issues.
Students come to Cornell in part because it is a residential environment and distinct from our peers located in urban areas. Many of the students who come here want to immerse themselves in an environment where they can learn and live with people different from themselves and feel they are part of a community.
We are committed to providing on-campus housing options for first- and second-year students. However, through this planning process, we learned that we operate at or near capacity virtually all the time and cannot meet student desire for on-campus housing, which forces many first-year students to immediately seek off-campus housing for their sophomore year. Running at capacity also prohibits us from temporarily closing any residential buildings or sections of buildings to address deferred maintenance.
Why did we embark on this now?
Lombardi: We are always striving to create the best possible student experience. It felt like the right time to study housing, given where we are in the campus master-planning process, our institutional leadership transition and the feedback we have received directly from our students and the community about the pressures surrounding housing.
What types of housing issues are addressed in the Housing Master Plan?
Kotlikoff: The Housing Master Plan proposes a multipronged approach to enhancing the student life experience by addressing both capacity and maintenance in a way that will not only ensure housing for first- and second-year students, but also create the types of residential environments that are appropriate for each class year.
To do so, we are proposing new housing and dining facilities on North Campus, as well as renovations to existing residential buildings. Even though over 800 upper-level students live on North Campus now, that space is strongly identified as the “first-year campus.” We want to make North Campus more appealing to sophomores, providing a much-needed housing alternative to the West Campus House System and Greek chapter houses, which is where many of our sophomores currently live.
Additionally, several components of the plan are targeted toward working with the surrounding community to alleviate pressure on the local housing markets – which will benefit upperclassmen as well as our graduate and professional students.
How is the proposed enrollment initiative linked to the housing initiative?
Kotlikoff: While addressing housing needs for our current and future students, we want to build in enough flexibility to accommodate a modest increase of 275 more freshmen beginning in 2020, at the earliest. The deans have requested an increase in first-year enrollments in response to several new academic programs and shifts in existing majors.
For example, applications to the Dyson School have more than doubled since the creation of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, and programs such as biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering have been launched and new faculty hired without an attendant increase in student 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.
But, we have not been able to increase student enrollment with housing at capacity, nor can we do so until we create more housing.
How will an increase in the student population impact academics and the student experience?
Kotlikoff: We will need to ensure that a Cornell education and experience will continue to attract the most talented students in the nation and the world. Any growth in the student body will need to be met with commensurate growth in faculty and staff to keep faculty-to-student ratios manageable and have no noticeable impacts on student services. Increased enrollment will necessitate careful evaluation of our student support services, existing majors, access to Gateway Courses and the undergraduate curriculum, which is under review now. We also are planning significant investments in faculty and staff, as well as in upgrading our major academic buildings and classrooms.
Our goal in planning for future housing needs, increasing student enrollment and investing in academics is to improve the student experience and further advance Cornell’s reputation as a leading research and teaching institution.
Lombardi: We’ll make sure we’re investing in all the right elements of the student experience. Housing is obviously a key component, but we also need to look at academic advising, dining, and social and recreational spaces, for instance. A lot of attention is being paid to make sure that, if we do grow, we’re growing all the commensurate student support services.
Having more students at Cornell – having more of the bright students that we currently have – would only enhance and elevate the student experience by bringing more diversity, more perspectives, more aptitude to campus.
For Student and Campus Life, the residential experience is an absolutely fundamental aspect of who we want to be. The residential experience is where students can find themselves, can develop themselves, and find their friends, make connections, and have a foundation that allows them to be successful in all they do here at Cornell and after they graduate.