Hill’s student population dips slightly; NU count drops

January 10, 2014
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The Mission Hill area’s off-campus undergrad student population fell last year for the first time since 2008: to 2,175 from 2,290 in 2013. Northeastern University (NU) continues to provide the bulk of the student population, with 1,065 students living on the Hill.

But for the first time since 2008, the NU Mission Hill student population decreased, from 1,315 last year, its highest number on record. NU’s current Mission Hill-based undergrad population is near 2010 levels, a near-20 percent drop from last year.

That drop is the result of a combination of two factors: all sophomores as well as freshmen now being required to live on-campus, and the correction of an ongoing reporting error, NU Vice President for Community and Governmental Outreach John Tobin told the Gazette.

“We’re also committed and required to add another 1,000 beds in the next decade, with 500 coming online in the next five years,” Tobin said.

The Grandmarc dormitory on St. Botolph Street is also expected to open in January 2015, adding another 720 beds.

NU’s undergraduate enrollment is 14,345, according to the census, which is lower than last year and keeping with NU’s self-imposed limit of around 15,000.

MCPHS University, formerly known as the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, has 547 full-time undergraduate students living in Mission Hill, a significant increase for the second year running. In the fall of 2011, it had 410 undergraduates living in Mission Hill.

“We only have two acres of land. We’re a commuter school,” MCPHS University President Charles Monahan told the Gazette. “We tried to build a dorm behind the Mission Church and failed.”

“I think students love it up [in Mission Hill] because it’s cheap and the landlords live out of state. They can’t live in Beacon Hill,” Monahan said.

Monahan also pointed out that MCPHS’s enrollment in Boston is capped at 5,400 students, many of which are working on long-term degrees, some as long as eight years. MCPHS also partners with other Colleges of the Fenway to lease extra beds. Currently, MCPHS is leasing beds from Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) and is negotiating with Emmanuel College on its Institutional Master Plan (IMP) for another 375 beds.

MCPHS filed its IMP with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) in December, outlining all its proposed projects in the Boston area for the next year. That document states that MCPHS is planning no projects, including no new dormitories, choosing instead to focus on its other campuses.

Wentworth Institute of Technology (WIT) rounded out the top three colleges, with 194 full-time undergraduates living in Mission Hill. WIT had been the second-highest source of students in Mission Hill until 2009. Its local population kept dropping until fall 2011, when only 41 Mission Hill residents were undergrads there. The trend reversed fall 2012, when 235 WIT undergrads were living on the Hill.

Gazette calls and emails to WIT were not returned by press time. WIT representatives have
previously said that WIT has the goal of housing 97 percent of its students looking for housing in the Boston area by this fall.

The biggest sources of off-campus Mission Hill-area student residents after Northeastern, MCPHS and WIT are the Massachusetts College of Art and Design with 158 students and Berklee College of Music with 47.

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.

CORRECTION: This article has been edited to clarify WIT’s goal of housing 97 percent of its students.

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