Published August 4, 2010
Middlebury College sees increase in student applications
Middlebury College is setting some records with this fall’s enrollment.
Almost 8,000 applications were received, a record number that is 52 percent higher than five years ago. The college accepted only about 1,400 of those applicants, or 17.5 percent, a record in selectivity that compares to 28 percent in 2005.
And, the academic profiles – including SAT scores and grade-point average – of the approved students is the highest in Middlebury’s history, according to Robert Claggett, dean of admissions.
“As Middlebury has grown in stature and prestige, we are attracting more highly qualified applicants than ever before,” he said. “. . . It signals that we did not have room for some of the most highly qualified applicants in the country.”
Of the 1,400 students accepted, about half are first-year students. The class of 2014 is expected to number about 670.
The diversity of applicants is increasing as well. Those who identified themselves as people of color increased from 1,075 to 1,287 this year. Applications from international students rose from 1,275 to 1,509.
Diversity is a big part of the job description for Middlebury’s new dean of the college. Shirley Ramirez arrived in July from Lafayette College, where she was vice president for institutional planning and community engagement. In addition to the main hat she will wear at Middlebury, she will serve as chief diversity officer.
“The position of chief diversity officer is important to our goal of supporting a more diverse student body and academic community,” said Middlebury College President Ronald Liebowitz. “In her dual role, Shirley will help further our efforts to create an environment where diversity is an integral part of students’ residential and academic experience.”
Middlebury College has added new minors in areas for which it has become renowned: languages and international studies.
The minor in global health explores the wide variations in health worldwide. For example, as the curriculum summary states, why do people in Switzerland live twice as long as those in Swaziland?
The minor in linguistics is described as an interdisciplinary field that analyzes language at many levels and provides a foundation for the study of languages and cultures.
Start them young
Also in the category of languages, Middlebury College this year announced a $4 million investment in an online language program, Middlebury Interactive Languages, for pre-college students. Another $6 million is invested by K12, the online curriculum provider.
Middlebury language professors are teaming with K12 to run the Web-based language classes. The initial courses launched this summer with beginner French and Spanish.
“There is a huge language gap in the United States, a crisis in terms of having a number of folks who are proficient in languages – not only strategic languages, but all foreign languages,” Liebowitz said. “We, as a leading institution that teaches foreign languages, should have a role to play.”
Middlebury launched its first summer language school about a century ago. More than 40,000 students have attended the summer sessions, the school estimates.
Two years ago, Middlebury partnered with the Monterey Institute of International Studies to create the Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy for students in grades eight through 12. This four-week language-immersion program is taught at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Bard College in New York, Oberlin College in Ohio and Pomona College in California.
As far as physical campus changes, the college has reacquired and renovated the Addison House at the corner of College and Weybridge streets to serve as the new home for college communications.
Addison House has gone by several names in its history. It was built in 1867 as the residence of Harvey Kitchel, then the college president, and has been the home of several other presidents since. The college sold the property in 1911; it was a community care home for 30 years before Middlebury bought it back this year.
The school is hoping to get a little greener. Middlebury announced this summer it would put up $2 million to reduce its dependence on oil by using bio-methane for heating. If Integrated Energy Solutions (IES) of Montpelier obtains financing for its share of the project – about $7 million – Middlebury College would enter a 10-year contract to buy the fuel from IES.
Methane gas, derived from cow manure, would come from production facilities installed on farms in the region. The school hopes to replace about two-thirds of the 1 million gallons of fuel oil it burns every year, starting in 2011.
It would be the next major step in Middlebury’s green movement. Last year, the college fired up its new wood-chip burner, using only locally harvested trees. It can handle 20,000 tons of wood chips annually, and this year is running at about 75 percent of its capacity.
After the recession
Like most colleges with investments and endowments, Middlebury was hit hard by the recent deep recession. Liebowitz told faculty and students earlier this year that the school had lost $350 million in wealth, mostly from its endowment fund.
Meanwhile, annual operating costs have increased by $60 million in the last five years. He noted it cost about $80,000 a year to educate each student at Middlebury, while the school charged just over $50,000. The difference traditionally had come from the endowment fund and annual gifts – and both sources had suffered badly in the recession.
And, the college had increased its staff from 584 full-time equivalents to about 1,000 by 2008.
“We found ourselves facing budget deficits of up to $30 million by 2015 if we did not change our cost structure in significant ways,” the college president said in his address at Mead Chapel.
Liebowitz assured the college that staff layoffs were “off the table” after measures that included freezing staff and faculty levels starting in 2008, early retirement and voluntary separation offerings, a salary freeze for those earning more than $50,000 and cutbacks of five to 10 percent in non-academic budgets.
Among many other measures, Liebowitz recommended increasing the number of students to 2,450. “It is no surprise that many colleges are adding students in these challenging times, as the marginal cost of an additional student is far less than the marginal revenue he or she generates,” he said.
He also proposed maintaining the current faculty level, thus keeping the student/teacher ratio at about 9 to 1. He said he hopes to lift the salary freeze after 2011.
Of great interest to students and their parents, the college president also announced reducing fee increases to one percent above the annual Consumer Price Index (CPI). It had been two to four percentage points above the CPI for the past decade.
Middlebury’s annual price increases in recent years have been lower than the average increases at private colleges, Liebowitz said, but in the current economic climate, they need to be closer to the CPI.
“We need to recognize that the demand for a four-year liberal arts degree, while still great, is not elastic,” he told faculty and students.
“There will be a price point at which even the most affluent of families will question their investment. The sooner we are able to reduce our fee increases, the better.”