In June 2022, Reed published its first Strategic Plan in seven years. To those unfamiliar, the Strategic Plan is put together by Administrators and Trustees, and aims to set broad goals for Reed to implement over the coming decades. The report discusses a variety of goals which the college intends to pursue — increasing student retention, diversity, career preparation, and faculty support — but one thing that stuck out to us at the Quest was the report’s consideration of gradually growing Reed’s student body over the coming years.
The report observes that Reed is a small college compared to its peers and notes that the college’s small size “encourages community and supports the kind of direct democratic governance processes that we [the Strategic Planning Committee] prefer.” However, there are many valid reasons cited in the report for increasing the size of Reed’s student body. Larger classes are typically more diverse and a larger student body would allow for the inclusion of more academic disciplines at the college. But likely the most pressing fact is that more students means more tuition revenue. Reed currently relies on tuition for the majority of its revenue, making Reed’s poor retention and graduation rates all the more damaging. Making the school bigger could certainly mitigate these financial woes.
Unfortunately, a larger student body wouldn’t make Reed any cheaper. The Strategic Plan also ‘forecasts increasing the price of tuition to balance revenues with expenditures.’
As is acknowledged in the report, consistently increasing the student body would not be without its consequences. We have already seen the effects of a growing student body; Reed’s Class of 2025 is the biggest in the college’s history, with the student body growing by nearly 200 students between the 2020 and 2021 school years. A larger student body would strain the college’s facilities and its ability to guarantee housing for all underclassmen. Shortly before the arrival of last year’s large freshman class, ResLife needed to free up space for 80 more students than expected. Evidently, increasing the student body when on-campus housing occupancy is usually 99% or higher would require some extensive reshuffling.
On the other hand, Reed’s large incoming classes are perhaps not as dramatic as they seem. Reed’s current student body only has 31 more people than it did in 2018, and whilst the amount of students varies every year, the overall increase in the last five years has been minimal. Despite the fact that there were nearly 1,000 more applicants accepted to Reed in 2021 than in 2018, the student population has been more or less stagnant; the report notes that Reed has “grown more slowly than [its] peers in the past decade.” One explanation for this is Reed’s sub-par retention rate, which the Strategic Plan acknowledges as “[lagging] behind comparable schools in the percentage of students who earn their bachelor’s degree at the college.” The report identifies student retention as “one of the most complex issues facing the college,” and identifies a variety of strategies to implement in the coming years in order to increase student retention.
If you’re curious about Reed’s Strategic Report and want to learn more about the on-campus problems and solutions it identifies, you can read it at: https://www.reed.edu/strategicplanning/assets/downloads/strategic-plan.pdf.