University of Rochester


November 16, 1995

For much of the past year, we have been engaged in a detailed planning process to bring the future of both the College and the University into clearer focus.

Our future is predicated on a past that shares some important characteristics with that of other leading universities -- a trend, over several decades, of substantial program growth and expansion, supported by growing student enrollments and increasing government support, all bolstered by a growing national economy. More recently, the forces supporting expansion have dwindled, and it is true to say that universities and colleges, by their nature, have responded slowly. At Rochester, we have recognized the need to focus and to rethink many basic aspects of the ways in which we have defined ourselves both internally and to others.

Our past, and hence our future, also contain important, unique features, presenting both novel problems and opportunities. Finding the best way to deal with these special issues, as well as those shared more widely in higher education, presents the essential challenge for the College at the University of Rochester. As we step up to these issues, and make decisions to resolve them, we believe we stand at the forefront of American universities.

The most central issue we confront is the quality of the College and the University. In teaching and in scholarship, we must be first-rate in all that we set out to do. These imperatives are reflected in our plan for a "Rochester Renaissance" -- so named because it reflects, in its scope and purpose, a virtual rebirth of the College.

The plan we set forth, which the Trustees approved unanimously at a retreat last weekend, will bring a number of immediate positive benefits to the entire College. A central element of the plan (as described below) is a reduction in the incoming freshman class size from 1,150 to 900. With this reduction, we will ensure that our strongest students find themselves, immediately, among a more even cohort. We project a significant increase in SAT scores, on top of the 34-point increase achieved this year. This in turn, will allow a significant change in teaching style for all faculty in their undergraduate classes.

The students who are here will be a part of a collegiate environment with a heightened sense of intellectual excitement, focused around the College's innovative new curriculum -- itself designed to appeal to self-motivated students interested in the importance of a broad liberal education to future leadership roles. Too, because of these changes, the undergraduate experience will be more cohesive, more residential, and more suited (in size and focus) to our particular resources, faculty and facilities alike. Class sizes will be smaller by some 20 percent, on average, shrinking in equilibrium to under 30 students per class from the current 36 per class, providing a better learning environment for students and faculty alike. These changes coalesce under our plan to ensure that the College provides an unmatched undergraduate educational experience within the context of national university.

Other features of the Renaissance Plan provide similar promise for the College community. The Board of Trustees has agreed that during the transition, we will maintain a prudent but normal fiscal environment for the College. We have programmed into the plan an increase in infrastructure investment, including not only buildings and classrooms, but also information acquisition, computing and networking on campus, and related academic investments. Finally, we have structured an increase in many graduate student stipends across the next five years that will make our remaining doctoral programs significantly more competitive and attractive. The key to all of this is a relentless focus on what we can best accomplish as an institution, and an insistence that quality must be our touchstone as we approach the 21st Century.

The Rochester Renaissance Plan

After extensive consideration and consultation, we are convinced that the plan that will best serve the College consists of a balanced program of judicious cost reductions, a renewed emphasis on undergraduate teaching, and a specific program to increase net revenue per student in an achievable manner. Here, with details following, are the key elements of the Rochester Renaissance Plan, described in broadest terms: (a) a reduction in the size of the undergraduate student body from 1,150 per class (last year's target) to 900 per entering class, aiming towards an equilibrium undergraduate student body of 3,600 (compared with the current enrollment of 4,500); (b) a major program of merit aid to attract the most talented college-bound students; (c) smaller sections to teach, and greater rewards for excellence in undergraduate teaching; (d) enhanced efforts to improve co-curricular activities for undergraduates; (e) suspension of enrollment in four doctoral programs within the College and the refocusing of four others; (f) reductions in College faculty size (through attrition and consensual retirement programs) from 343 to 306; (g) administrative cost reductions of $5 million or more at the University level; and (h) completion of the program of administrative decentralization to bring to the College both more fiscal and programmatic autonomy, as well as more responsibility, and, together, a coherence of academic program and administrative structure that the College does not now have.

Programs to Improve Quality and Revenue

Perhaps most significantly, we are limiting the undergraduate class to the 900 students who are academically best equipped to take advantage of a Rochester education. Reducing the student body size may seem counter-intuitive, given that, from one perspective, a decrease in the number of students would not seem to address pressing fiscal concerns. However, just as an institution's financial balance is not static, our solutions must also not be static, but must take a many-year perspective. We must focus on a coherent vision for the University and the College, and provide a consistent message and experience both to prospective and enrolling students that supports that vision. A more compact student body is the only realistic way we see to improve our attractiveness to the nation's finest undergraduate applicants with sufficient speed so that we will become more selective with the augmented net tuition revenues associated with that selectivity. All other options we have considered would entail even deeper and more painful cuts than the ones we have chosen. We believe, after extensive analysis, that this strategy, although not without risk, is indeed the most cogent and promising one. The investment the plan calls for in terms of enhanced endowment use over the next five years stands at considerably less than was the case during the recent College faculty upsizing (and then downsizing) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One important feature about the Renaissance Plan is that, if it works less well than we had anticipated on the basis of studies we have conducted, we can change course as appropriate.

Many gains accrue as a result of this strategic decision to become more focused in our undergraduate education, with a smaller student body. First, we should become even more visible as a "place to go" for outstanding students who are motivated to become future leaders. Second, our focus will make us more desirable for applicants as we become more distinctive in size and feel. At our current undergraduate size, we have ceded what can and should be our most distinctive market niche: that of a small research university. The College is simply too close in size to that of Ivy League (and other comparable) institutions to create a perceptible distinction in the market place. By becoming more clearly differentiated from other institutions (colleges and universities alike) -- and size is an important, and visible, way to do it -- we believe that the College will further strengthen its applicant pool. Third, the reduced size fits our facilities and mission better. The character of the institution has changed with its growth from 3,500 to 4,500 undergraduates over the last 20 years. The consequences of increased class size have been many, including the loss of the essential residential college nature of Rochester, and the capacity and cost pressures on dormitories, classrooms, dining services, recreational facilities, the student union, and campus parking, not to mention on faculty and staff. Fourth, we will improve our already good student-faculty ratio. With the planned and necessary reductions in faculty size to 306 (see below), a student body of 4,500 would result in a student/faculty ratio of nearly 15:1, far higher than at any time in the history of the University, and higher than virtually every college and university with which we compete. A combination of 306 faculty and 3,600 under-graduates brings the ratio of students to faculty down to 11.6:1, a significant improvement even over the current ratio of 13.1:1.

Together, these changes should create both a better internal environment for students, faculty, and staff alike, and an external reputation as a distinctive, creative environment for self-motivated students of the highest quality. That environment and reputation ensures our future as we head into the 21st century.

Cost-Controlling Measures

We cannot stake the University's future entirely on the exciting consequences of a more cohesive and focused undergraduate experience discussed above; those initiatives must be coupled with serious steps towards reduction of the costs of operating the College and the University. The Plan, as adopted, includes such measures:

  • Administrative Costs. We believe that it would be irresponsible to consider significant reductions in the core of what we do -- faculty and academic programs -- without first seeking every opportunity to reduce other cost components of the University. To this end, we continue a major administrative review of every facet of the University, from telecommunications to purchasing services to the organizational structure of student services, designed to eliminate duplication and, where possible, both increase service and reduce costs. We have identified a series of administrative cost reductions that we believe we can achieve, without harming the nature of service provided -- reductions of at least $5 million annually for the University, approximately $2 million of which will directly help to resolve the financial problems of the College.
  • Academic Program and Faculty Reductions. The growth of our faculty and administrative programs, in common with other higher educational institutions, has overtaken our medium- and long-term expectations for revenues and we must responsibly seek reductions in expenditures as a part of the overall balancing of revenues and costs. Our analysis has led us to conclude that a College faculty size of approximately 306 is sustainable, given the revenue increases that we reasonably can anticipate through other parts of the Renaissance Plan, down from our current faculty size of 343.

We also strongly believe that it is necessary to focus our efforts in graduate education more carefully. The logic for choosing which programs to pursue with vigor, which to curtail, and which to suspend, is consistent with the College Vision statement reprinted elsewhere in this issue. We can continue to support graduate education (which, in general, is not self-sustaining financially) only where it supports undergraduate education of undergraduates, the creation of new knowledge, with a quality of graduate education that adds luster to the University, or can be brought to such a level with reasonable investment of resources. While we do not plan to review here the rationale for the individual decisions that have been made about Ph.D. program suspensions or refocusings, we believe firmly that this set of decisions, combined with the faculty reductions we have planned, creates a focused use of resources in doctoral education that serves the College mission better than any other sustainable set of programs we can envision.

Our focus on the institution's quality, in its core faculty and, because of its centrality in supporting all else that we wish to do, in the undergraduate student body, rests in considerable measure on the overriding commitment we have toward the dual mission of the College and the University: the creation and dissemination of knowledge. This commitment to research stands as a central part of the very self-definition of the University of Rochester, and must continue as a central feature of our mission even as we reshape ourselves for the future.

We wish to reemphasize here the importance of research and scholarship by all our faculty. As a part of the Rochester Renaissance Plan, we will necessarily bring to a close enrollment in some doctoral programs in the College, thereby -- without question -- altering the nature of research carried out by faculty in affected departments. We are completely convinced, however, that research and scholarship can and must continue in all cases -- those with continuing doctoral programs, those with refocussed doctoral programs, and those where doctoral enrollment will be suspended. The style of research will change in some cases, and we will need to (and are committed to) providing new resources as necessary to support the research and scholarship of all faculty across the College.

Dynamic Effects

Early improvements in our attractiveness to the best college-bound students (and resultant tuition revenues) will lead to later improvements in these areas as well. We are confident that greater selectivity will in turn attract applications and enrollments from more of the most qualified undergraduate applicants; a process that will be reinforced by the more exciting and cohesive experience undergraduates will find upon arrival here. Additionally, we likely will have more students enrolled who make Rochester their first choice, not a second or third choice. This will enhance student morale and engagement with the College.

We have also paid special attention to the question of whether we can maintain (and enhance) our reputation as a national research university with somewhat fewer Ph.D. programs. Examining roughly comparable private institutions -- those that ranked between 15th and 30th in the latest U.S. News ranking -- the median and mean number of Ph.D. programs generally associated with arts and sciences and engineering were 15 and 16, respectively. Rochester currently has 24 and will have 20 under this plan. Not only does this keep Rochester above the median and mean of these institutions in the number of relevant Ph.D. programs in these fields (and that is before those institutions undergo any refocusing process), but also the distribution of our programs across general fields provides us confidence that we have retained a sufficient "balance" as well.


We acknowledge that the course we have laid out cannot be guaranteed to work as planned, but we definitely believe it will. The Trustees have offered their unqualified endorsement for this course of action over a five-year period, recognizing the immediate revenue consequences of a reduced class size. Despite the risks of trying anything new, we are confident that this course offers a significantly better prospect for a greatly renewed and improved College and University; it contains the promise of a true renaissance of the College, a promise that we believe stands a high chance of fulfillment, and that is faithful to the institution's legacy.