Harvard Should Be Bigger


In 2017, Yale University opened two residential colleges as part of a plan to increase the undergraduate student population. Last fall, Princeton University did the same. Columbia University, Brown University, Dartmouth College, Cornell University, and University of Pennsylvania have also increased their student bodies in the past two decades.

Of the Ivy League schools, only Harvard hasn’t.

As many schools — elite and not — open their doors to more students, Harvard’s undergraduate population has held flat for decades while the number of applicants has ballooned.

For a well-endowed school that prides itself on providing access to high-achieving students of all backgrounds, this stubborn exclusivity requires remedy.


We know firsthand how a Harvard education can change your life, and we believe earnestly that — at least on net — Harvard graduates make the world a better place.

For these reasons, when it comes to admissions, we believe that more is more. Any truly egalitarian vision for Harvard must necessarily include expanding its undergraduate population.

As former University President Lawrence H. Summers knew, to expand, Harvard must go bravely across the Charles. Using the large swaths of land it has already acquired in Allston, Harvard can construct new undergraduate Houses. It planned to do so under Summers but did not. Now, the University must reconsider.

Done well, these new Houses would not only benefit the marginal admit — they could make student life better for all undergraduates. Relative to the Quad and often-isolating overflow housing, the Allston Houses would better foster community by centralizing undergraduate living.

Worthwhile as physical expansion may be, we know that it can only do so much. Harvard should aspire to serve any young person around the world who desires to learn, and that demands it think bigger.

Namely, Harvard should continue taking bold steps to expand access to non-affiliates.

Through initiatives like Axim Collaborative, the University has already made significant efforts in this area, which it should further. Building on this success, we hope to see Harvard digitally publish more materials from its courses, including lecture recordings and reading lists. Restricting these resources when publication has so few costs renders them artificially scarce without good reason.

Along similar lines, Harvard should further its partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as less well-resourced schools in general.

As we consider expansion, we should not, however, forget the question of class composition. While expansion offers Harvard the capacity to admit more students from underrepresented backgrounds, after the end of race-conscious admissions especially, it does not nearly solve the problem of diverse admissions by itself.

To this extent, Harvard must pursue, with equal ambition, avenues for expanding access to underrepresented groups, for example, through summer camps for low-income students.

Finally, it must be acknowledged: Any plans for expansion are bound to meet difficulties in their implementation.

First, concerns about development in Allston abound. As we have argued, expansion in Allston must address the effects of such growth on locals. Harvard owes it to Allstonians to engage them in good faith when making choices that could profoundly impact their lives.

Second, Harvard must ensure quantity does not trade off with quality. Specifically, a low student-faculty ratio is essential to the educational experience, meaning the University must ensure increases in faculty hiring match any increases in the undergraduate population.

To this end, construction of undergraduate Houses in Allston could allow the University to convert the Quad Houses to graduate housing and, in turn, admit more graduate students that could help fill new faculty positions.

From social mobility, to pioneering research, to field-leading alumni, we believe Harvard does good. Expansion, physical and digital, would only increase these benefits.

A bigger Harvard is a better Harvard — for its students and for the world.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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