Before Tufts even finished making acceptance decisions, the Class of 2025 was already a newsworthy one. This year’s applicant pool was not only the most diverse in the university’s history but also the largest, with a total of 31,190 students applying for admission. It is too early to know how many admitted students will matriculate in the fall, but the ones who do will be joined by another cohort — the roughly 140 students admitted last year who took a gap year. And if campus feels a little more crowded when these Jumbos arrive than it did for the classes before them, that will be no accident. In fall 2018, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser explained that the university was engaged in a multi-year effort to expand enrollment. As Tufts admits all these students, however, it must also answer questions about what kind of experience it can provide for them — the most pressing one being what housing options will be available in the years ahead.
Tufts’ shortage of on-campus housing is not new. This year, however, the crisis boiled over when the Office of Residential Life announced that West Hall, formerly a sophomore dorm, will be converted into first-year housing in order to provide enough space for the incoming class. This threw many rising sophomores planning to live in the dorm’s quads back into the lottery system for random selection, splitting friend groups into ad hoc doubles and triples.
The university has put forth nonsolutions to housing scarcity in the past, including the practice of “bed optimization” — a euphemism for squeezing the maximum possible number of students into each room. A few years ago, Tufts also converted many of Medford’s wood-frame houses into what is now known as Community Housing, or CoHo. This did create additional rooms for students, though its most notable impact on the Medford community was not adding to the local housing stock, but rather displacing longtime residents, some of whom had lived in the same spot for decades.
For 15 years, Tufts avoided the most direct solution to a housing crisis — actually building more dorms on campus — even amid recent years’ increased enrollments. Last week, however, Tufts finally committed to building a new dorm, the first since Sophia Gordon Hall was completed in 2006. After so many years of inaction, we commend the university’s change of course and plan to increase the percentage of students living on campus. However, as Tufts develops its plans for the new dorm, it is critical that it make space for the maximum number of students to comfortably live on campus. Further, while building a dorm is a necessary first step, Tufts must commit to making future planning decisions in conjunction with the cities of Medford and Somerville and avoid further encroachment on their communities.
Building more housing on campus is an issue of economic justice, as the current shortage leaves few options for low-income students at Tufts and for low-income renters who are being priced out of our surrounding communities. These problems risk getting worse in the years ahead with the Green Line’s imminent arrival to Medford, something that could contribute to further surges in housing prices.
However, the more housing Tufts creates, the more room it creates for local commuters to live near the Medford/Tufts Green Line stop, lessening the community’s car dependency and reducing traffic, pollution and carbon emissions. Owing to this abundance of benefits for local tenants, there is no better gift for Tufts to give to its host communities than a commitment to building more housing on campus. Ergo, the university should adopt a long-term plan to house as many students on campus as it reasonably can.
Though the process of building a new dorm will take place over a longer time frame, this issue is urgent, and Tufts must also provide short-term remedies for the housing shortage. Until construction is complete, Tufts should make admission decisions keeping in mind the limits posed by the ongoing housing crisis. In addition, Tufts should use its wealth of resources to compensate the community for the harm caused by its ever-increasing enrollment, such as by increasing payments in lieu of taxes to the cities of Medford and Somerville.
Building a residence hall will provide students with a strong sense of community on campus as well as alleviate the burdens imposed by the housing crisis. Not only will this affect students, but it will also drastically impact the surrounding communities, who bear the burden of this tight housing market, and whose local governments Tufts should cooperate with in any new construction. The sooner that Tufts can guarantee students more on-campus housing, the better it can facilitate the growth of community on and off campus.