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School Updates

Rice announces expansion of student body

by Jeff Falk

Enrollment to rise 20%; new student center and residential college planned

Rice University’s Board of Trustees has approved a plan to enlarge its undergraduate student body by 20% to 4,800 by the fall of 2025.

The university will open a 12th residential college and expand the number of students living on campus by about one-third to 3,525. Although decisions on graduate student enrollment are more decentralized, Rice’s current population of roughly 3,500 degree-seeking graduate students is also expected to grow, bringing Rice’s total enrollment to approximately 9,000 by fall 2025.

This expansion will follow a roughly 35% increase in undergraduate enrollment between fall 2005 and 2013, as well as enlargement in graduate programs. With the newly announced expansion in enrollment, Rice’s student body will have grown by about 80% over two decades.


“Rice’s extraordinary applicant pool has grown dramatically despite the challenges posed by the pandemic,” President David Leebron said.


“With the previous expansion we greatly increased our national and international student applications, enrolment and visibility. We also dramatically increased diversity on our campus, and we were able to extend the benefits of a Rice education to many more students. As before, we must undertake this expansion carefully in order to assure that we retain the best aspects of Rice culture, student experience and sense of community.”

Higher enrollment will help Rice not only continue developing a more diverse and dynamic environment on campus, but also add more faculty members strategically recruited for specific objectives in teaching and research.

“The Board of Trustees strongly supports the expansion of the student body as a strategic imperative. Expanding the student body now will also expand Rice’s future alumni base across the nation and around the world,” said Robert Ladd, chair of the Rice Board of Trustees. “Welcoming more students to the Rice campus today will have an impact on the university for generations to come.”

Demand for a Rice education is high. The number of students applying to Rice has grown about 75% over the last four years, and especially after the university’s 2018 launch of the Rice Investment, a financial aid program that significantly expanded support for domestic students from families with incomes up to $200,000. In 2004, Rice received about 11 applications for every entering student; by 2020, the ratio had grown to roughly 28 applicants for every student opening. Almost 30,000 students applied for fall 2021, an increase of 26% from the previous year.

Under the university’s plan, the total number of degree-seeking undergraduates will scale up annually for five years, from just over 4,000 in fall 2020 to 4,800 in fall 2025. The full-time instructional faculty is expected to increase by nearly 50 by fall 2025. Rice’s undergraduate student-faculty ratio would remain roughly the same — about six faculty members for every undergraduate student.

An expanded student body will be accommodated by new construction on the campus, including a new engineering building, a new building for the visual and dramatic arts, an additional residential college and an expanded student center. In the first quarter of next year, the university will break ground on a new student center that will largely replace the Rice Memorial Center (RMC) familiar to generations of Rice students and alumni. Designed by the international architecture firm Adjaye Associates, the architects behind the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Rice’s new three-story, 80,000-square-foot student center will incorporate all of the RMC’s current functions, a multicultural center and a plethora of gathering and event spaces.

As the student body grows, so will Rice’s research capabilities. Despite the unusual circumstances imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the university has recently announced a series of major new initiatives as its external research funding has significantly increased.

The Welch Institute at Rice University, a sweeping strategic partnership launched in September 2020, will accelerate the discovery, design and manufacture of the next generation of basic materials. The $100 million commitment from the Robert E. Welch Foundation constitutes the largest single gift in Rice University’s history. The new materials developed at this institute could literally transform the world.

Carbon Hub, inaugurated in February 2020 with a $10 million commitment from Shell, is working with industry partners to create an energy future with zero carbon emissions. Instead of burning hydrocarbons and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, hydrocarbons will be split to create clean-burning hydrogen fuel. Instead of carbon residue becoming a gas polluting the air, it will become a solid material that can be used to make everything from buildings to cars to household appliances. Carbon Hub will direct $100 million of basic science and engineering on an array of technologies, several of which have already been proven in the lab.

The Rice University National Security Research Accelerator laboratories, opened in October 2020, will accelerate the discovery and development of technologies for both military and civilian applications. The partnership with the Army Futures Command and the Army Research Laboratory represents a new model for collaborative research on critical technologies to enhance national security.

The new students will also be able to take advantage of another recently approved initiative. Rice’s top-ranked Jones Graduate School of Business will provide the faculty and administer the curriculum for the university’s first undergraduate major in business, which will be offered beginning this fall. Current freshmen and incoming undergraduates will be eligible.

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