Campus housing to be revamped

Centennial Hall sits vacant for the summer on Tuesday. Adding more beds to SuperBlock residence halls is one of many housing strategies proposed at a Board of Regents meeting last month.

Centennial Hall sits vacant for the summer on Tuesday. Adding more beds to SuperBlock residence halls is one of many housing strategies proposed at a Board of Regents meeting last month.

Christopher Aadland

Limited dorm space and the recent boom in off-campus student apartments are prompting University of Minnesota officials to rethink their housing strategy. 
 
University leaders hope to boost GPAs and graduation rates by convincing more first-year students to live on campus, modernizing the Superblock’s amenities and renovating Pioneer Hall, according to recommendations presented to a Board of Regents committee earlier this month. 
 
In January, school officials formed the committee to review the University’s long-term strategy for student housing and its approach to dealing with a bloated housing market just off campus.
 
For example, about 88 percent of first-year students currently live in University housing, but the school would like to see that number increase to more than 90 percent, Pamela Wheelock, vice president for University Services, said at the committee’s meeting earlier this month.
 
Getting more students to live on campus is difficult, though. Of all the Big Ten schools, the University has the lowest percentage of undergraduate students it can
accommodate in on-campus housing.
 
To make matters more challenging, Wheelock said, new and luxurious housing options have sprouted up around campus that are more appealing than dorms or University apartments.
 
Residence halls help first-year students engage with peers and immerse themselves in the University, she said, so it’s important to promote that style of living.
 
“[They’re] a major way we make the big university smaller for our students.”
 
University statistics show that students who live on campus have higher grades, retention rates and four-year graduation rates than those who live off campus, but the University’s housing only has room for 23 percent of the undergraduate population — the lowest rate in the Big Ten.
 
“What we’re finding now is that we really need to extend some of those [dorm life] models into the second year,” Bob McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, said at the committee meeting.
 
Some of the University’s Big Ten peers have built additional on-campus facilities to accommodate more students. To extend the experience of first-year dorm living to as many students as possible, University officials hope to seek partnerships with off-campus landlords.
 
Wheelock said she expects to have at least two pilot programs with private property owners in place by this fall, which may include assigning community advisors to private apartment buildings.
 
Incoming freshmen who meet a May application deadline are guaranteed housing. Room and board cost about $8,500 last year — the second-lowest rate in the Big Ten.
 
The University also plans to update Pioneer Hall, which is the oldest residence hall in the Superblock. In the past, school leaders discussed a total renovation of the
 
four buildings in the cluster, but the committee decided it wasn’t financially feasible. 
 
The other three buildings won’t be ignored — the University plans to modernize the dining facilities that service the entire block, according to the recommendations.
 
“[The Superblock is] certainly a challenge for us in terms of meeting expectations of functionality, some of the amenities that we’d like to have,” Wheelock said at the meeting. “This is important to reinvest in.”
 
Regents are set to receive more detailed plans for incorporating the recommendations this fall.