Middlebury is paying a $10,000 stipend to 30 juniors and seniors who opt to take the fall and winter semesters off.
The program, open to the first 30 students to apply, was announced on July 31, and generated 63 applications before the deadline on August 3, according to Dean of Students Derek Doucet.
In the email announcing the program on July 31, Doucet and Associate Dean of ResLife A.J. Place wrote that the college must respond to unusually high post-pandemic enrollment this fall while remaining “committed to providing the best possible academic and residential experience to our students.”
The day after the email from Doucet and Place, Middlebury Student Government Association (SGA) sent an email entitled “SGA's Response to ‘Incentive for Leave of Absence.’” SGA president Abed Abbas ’24 and other members of the SGA including the Junior and Senior Senators expressed their concern about the program, urging students to carefully consider the “many implications not mentioned in the initial email.”
SGA clarified in its response email that students who took a leave of absence would not have access to Middlebury health insurance and cannot access Health Services or Counseling, although they will still be able to access the Center for Careers and Internships (CCI), Student Financial Services (SFS) and their class deans. They also shared their disappointment with the timing of the new program and its detrimental impact on students.
“We were not informed about the reason why the incentive was shared this late. We believe that such a decision should have been communicated sooner to give students more flexibility and time to thoroughly assess their options,” wrote Abbas and other SGA members.
In an email to The Campus on August 15, Abbas clarified that the Middlebury administration did not consult with SGA before announcing the program.
“SGA exists to represent student needs, and it would be ideal to consult SGA withall student matters. However, we haven’t started the academic year and we are yet to establish a connection with the school’s administration for the future,” Abbas wrote.
In an email to The Campus on August 9, Doucet explained that a recent trend of students declaring leaves of absences later in the summer and right before fall classes start — instead of earlier in the spring and summer — made the financial incentives necessary. Because the August housing draw was beginning the week of August 7, Doucet wrote, the college needed to increase the number of students taking leaves of absences in order to open up more housing on campus.
“[The program] both reduced the number of students in August draw and added beds back into the inventory,” Doucet wrote.
The college has been dealing with an unusually large student body since the Covid-19 pandemic, when many students took leaves of absences and as a result are delayed in completing their education. Current estimates for fall 2023 enrollment are close to 2800 students living on-campus, according to Doucet.
Abbas expressed his understanding that the college needed to address over-enrollment and successfully did so through this program, but he wrote that he believes that the college could have found a better situation by discussing the issue with SGA earlier in the summer.
“The incentives worked with those students, and based on personal communications some were happy to get a break while receiving money,” Abbas wrote. “This doesn’t mean that there are no better solutions that would’ve guaranteed a better outcome for students as well as administration; for better scenarios, a conversation with the SGA should’ve been established earlier to understand student needs better.”
This incentive for taking a semester off is the latest in a series of policies aimed at reducing the number of students living on campus. The college is having more upperclassmen live off-campus. Students lived at the Bread Loaf School of English in fall 2021 and the Inn on the Green in the fall semesters of 2021 and 2022, and once again in 2023. This past spring, Middlebury offered a $2,000 travel reimbursement for students to switch study abroad plans to fall 2023 from spring 2024. It also implemented a new program to send 32 new first-years to Copenhagen for the fall 2023 semester, reducing the incoming class of 2027 to under 600 students.
Abbas added that SGA represents all students at Middlebury regardless of if they will be on campus, and encouraged students to reach out with any questions or concerns.
“I have full trust that students who have accepted the incentive will have the opportunity to ask questions and get answers in regard to their concerns,” Abbas wrote.
As Middlebury looks towards the fall semester and shifting enrollment numbers each year, the college says that it will continue to prioritize the success and well-being of its students through their housing.
“As a residential community, we are committed to providing the best possible living and learning experience to all of our students,” Doucet wrote.
Ryan McElroy '25 (he/him) is a managing editor for The Middlebury Campus.
He previously served as a news editor and staff writer.
Ryan is majoring in History with a possible minor in psychology or English. He also takes part in Middlebury Mock Trial and Matriculate.org on campus. He spent this past summer working as a research assistant in the History department studying Middle Eastern immigration to New England.