Student population still on the rise

November 11, 2011
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NU count breaks 1,200

The Mission Hill area’s off-campus undergrad student population rose for the third straight year to 2,085, though at a slower pace than before. The one school with a major jump in student residents is Northeastern University (NU), with 1,227 full-time undergrad students, a 19 percent increase from last fall and a 45 percent increase from 2008.

NU has three times as many students living in the area as the next-highest source of students, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS). NU’s students account for almost 60 percent of the Hill’s student population. The school is one of only two institutions to have a significant increase in student residents in the area.

MCPHS has 410 students living on the Hill, down from 577 last year. Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s (MassArt) student residents jumped from 79 last year to 190 currently.

Gazette calls and emails to MassArt were not returned by press time.

The student census, required by the City’s University Accountability Ordinance, is self-reported by educational institutions in the fall and spring semesters. It counts all students living on and off campus.  Reporting began in 2006.

There are various quirks in the census that mean the actual student population is likely higher. A major qualification is that the reporting requirement applies only to private, Boston-based institutions. For example, Harvard’s count includes only its Boston-based schools of business, medicine, dentistry and public health. The giant University of Massachusetts Boston does not report at all. Neither does the local Roxbury Community College.

The count is reported only by postal ZIP codes, which do not exactly match neighborhoods. The Mission Hill count is based on the core 02120 ZIP code, though parts of the neighborhood and the nearby Longwood Medical and Academic Area (LMA) are in other ZIP codes, especially 02115.

According to 2010 U.S. census data, Mission Hill and the LMA have a population of 20,907 people, making the area roughly 10 percent undergraduate students.

John Tobin, Northeastern’s vice president of city and community affairs, explains the rise in NU off-campus residents as an effect of the university’s “rising in standing.”

“We’re getting better-prepared students coming in, so the attrition rate is going down. Kids are staying here for the whole 4 or 5 years [instead of dropping out],” Tobin said.

Tobin would not speak on the record about the 45 percent increase in NU area residents the last three years.

Northeastern’s enrollment is hovering between 14,700 and 14,800, Tobin said, which is slightly lower than last year and keeping with NU’s self-imposed limit of around 15,000. All freshmen are currently required to live on-campus, and starting in 2013, all sophomores will, too.

The biggest sources of off-campus Mission Hill-area student residents after Northeastern, MCPHS and MassArt are Berklee College of Music (48) and Suffolk University (42).

Northeastern is currently planning the construction of a 720-bed dormitory on grounds currently owned by the YMCA at 316 Huntington Ave. The dorm was planned to open for fall 2013, though that is now “unlikely,” Tobin said.

“Once we get these beds open and get our [Institutional] Master Plan discussion open, I’m sure that there will still be pressure to build more dorms,” Tobin said.

An IMP is a comprehensive development plan that describes an institution’s existing facilities, long-range planning goals and proposed projects. The IMP serves as zoning approval for all its projects. NU’s current IMP expires next year.

Wentworth Institute of Technology had been the second-highest source of students in Mission Hill until 2009, but has been making efforts to decrease its off-campus presence. Wentworth representatives have said that Wentworth has the goal of housing 97 percent of its freshmen and sophomores within the next five years.

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