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Expect Transfer Enrollments To Increase As Well

As reported in the Daily Sun two weeks ago, and reiterated in the Chronicle last Friday, part of the University's response to the world's recent economic calamities will be to increase undergraduate enrollments as a method to bolster tuition revenue.

So far, Provost Fuchs has reported that the University has increased its target freshman class size by 100, to 3150. However, given that University has historically over-enrolled by as many as 150 students, don't expect this change to make any big differences to undergraduate campus life.

The bigger question in my mind is how many additional transfer students Cornell will enroll in the coming years. Transfer enrollments tend to be a bit more volatile than freshman enrollments, but the University enrolled a modern-era record number of transfer students this past fall -- 616. This compares to a low of 470 in 2006 and an average for the past decade of 540.

If you forgive me for treating students simply as tuition dollars (as opposed to eager and enterprising young minds questing to sip from the cup of Ezra's knowledge) transfers students are particularly attractive to the University's coffers for a couple of reasons. This includes the fact that they don't need to take the often over-crowded introductory courses, nor the labor-intensive writing seminars, so they can easily fill into the often under-enrolled upper-level courses.

Then there's the budgetary considerations that exists between Cornell's undergraduate colleges. Most students probably don't realize this, but, as an example, every time a student in Ag takes a course listed in the Arts college, their home college needs to pay Arts for the cost of said class. Most of the colleges have agreements whereby some of the classes are free to "share" (e.g. biology or economics), but, for instance, the philosophically inquisitive Human Development student will force HumEc to pay Arts for the privilege to take a class on Hegel.

That's where the budgetary miracle of transfer students comes in -- because transfers have to satisfy their major's requirements in a shorter amount of time -- they are "cheaper" for any individual college to enroll, because the will enroll in less out-of-college courses.

So that little foray into Cornell's budgetary minutia aside, I think it's safe to expect transfer student enrollments to increase as well in the next year -- perhaps by as many as 100 students as well. Right now the undergraduate transfer population comprises no more than 10 percent of the entire student body -- or each year's graduating class -- and I think it would be hard for the University to increase this percentage to over 15 percent without significantly affecting the character of the school.

What does this mean for tuition revenues? Relatively little, actually, in the grand scheme of things -- Cornell can maybe expect $25k in revenue from the average student after discounting financial aid considerations, so we're talking about a possible net increase in revenue of $5 million. That number is dwarfed by Ithaca's $2 billion budget, but at the end of the day it could probably support a dozen or so entry-level professorships.

All said, these policy changes may amount to an additional 200 students on campus next year, and if such trends continue for another couple of years, we could easily see Cornell's on-campus undergraduate enrollment to surpass 14,000 for the first time ever. Only time will tell what effect, if any, this will have on the undergraduate experience at Cornell.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on February 23, 2009 (#)

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