It is no secret that Knox is bursting at the seams. Starting in 2006, with the largest freshman enrollment in the past ten years at 438 new students, the campus has continued to stretch in order to accommodate students’ needs. Every year, it seems that administrators promise that the next class will be smaller and for one reason or another, that simply is not the case.
In 2007, the number of incoming freshmen dropped by almost a hundred students, but then rose again for the next two years to a significantly higher number. One could chalk up this disparity to our system of enrolling students. Perhaps it was thought that because of the downfall in the economy, students would not choose Knox because as a private institution it is more expensive. This year, all the administrators were waiting for the “summer melt” in which committed freshmen had a change of heart. This never happened, as they put it, and we are again dealing with more students than the campus was built for.
Surely, the increase in students shows a lot of positive publicity for Knox. While other institutions are struggling financially, Knox continues to bring in high enrollments. With more students, the Knox community can expand its reaches and the marketing has been amazing. There is no doubt that Knox should be a competitive contender for the brightest students in the nation and indeed in the world.
That said, the influx of students has created several problems in student life that may not be apparent to those crunching the numbers. Sure, there are enough empty beds on campus to accommodate the students who live there, but this means that freshmen are being placed into senior living and constantly shuffled around as the year progresses. Imagine placing a young first-year woman into a senior apartment where her only roommates are trying to enjoy their last year of college by partying with alcohol, drugs and an entire array of willing young gentlemen. This is not a good first impression.
Additionally, this overload of students means that more are welcomed to live off campus. While this helps bridge the gap between Knox students and Galesburg, it also spreads the student body apart at a college that prides itself on having a cohesive experience.
Besides housing issues, there has also been overloading in classes for the past few years. While the student-to-professor ratio is 11.9 to one, this number can be deceiving. Classes that encompass students who have unique majors, such as Computer Science and Neurobiology, regularly have five or less students enrolled while larger major courses must close out scores of students each term.
Even in more advanced courses in many majors, such as English, psychology and history, classes are filled with 20 to 30 students consistently. Even after enrollment closes, many professors feel pressured to add a few extra students, who would not have classes otherwise.
Students struggle every day with the cramped spaces and have learned to deal with them. Every noon and evening the Hard Knox Café is filled with people, which makes it hard to maneuver with our food. If a student does not have work study, and even if they do, it can be very difficult to find jobs on campus and many are asked to take community service jobs at local business or Carl Sandburg College.
Then there are the several clubs that sprout up on campus every year. They don’t have any meeting space or storage space and those that continue from year to year must buy the same materials they had the previous year because storage is so limited. The only space that SAI, Knox’s music fraternity, has is a shared closet in CFA with the Admissions Department.
Even as the campus has grown so immensely, the space we have has not kept up with the pace. Currently, there is Alumni Hall sitting empty on campus without enough money for renovations. The basement of Seymour Union, affectionately known as Wallace Lounge, has been closed off from public use since it flooded in the spring of 2007. The college has gained Borzello Hall, but along with that we have also added a thriving journalism department and a wonderful marketing team, not necessarily more space for the growing student body.
This means Knox needs to do one of two things. They need to expand campus to include more classrooms, professors and residence halls or they need to become more selective in order to shrink the student body to a more manageable size. Whereas Knox could expand its borders and allow more students to become a part of our distinct network, this option creates an entirely new set of problems.
If Knox expands, the campus stands to loose that close-knit community feel that is unique to small liberal arts colleges. It would challenge the selective appeal of perspective students who are seeking out a place where they are recognized for their individual academic achievements and forfeit the intimate relationships between students and professors, and indeed students with each other. Students come to Knox in order to develop themselves, not become a number.
We recommend that the administration look at perspective students more critically this year and accept a smaller percentage of the applicants. From our past experiences, it is clearly unreasonable to assume a large portion of the students accepted to Knox will decline this offer on any basis, including having received better offers elsewhere, economic situations and second thoughts about college.
Students want to come to Knox for its small atmosphere and liberal arts opportunities, which is something we need to sustain in the future. These days, Knox is the first choice for many high school seniors, so let’s act like it.