U offers more housing perks

Koran Addo

Rising student expectations are driving up costs for University residence halls, officials said.

The University is trying to keep up with amenities such as cable TV and high-speed Internet that are becoming standard in homes and off-campus apartment complexes.

“Students have more amenities at home, so they have higher expectations,” said Susan Stubblefield, assistant director for Housing and Residential Life.

Riverbend Commons, the University’s newest residence hall, offers apartment-style housing similar to off-campus developments such as The Melrose and Jefferson Commons than traditional residence halls.

“There is pressure on the University’s part to make similar amenities available because of the availability in off-campus housing,” said Sue Weinberg, University real estate coordinator.

A recent article in The New York Times reported that buildings such as Riverbend are becoming a trend at universities across the nation.

“We have to build what students want,” said Mannix Clark, Housing and Residential Life associate director. “Our goal is to try to meet the needs of students and still make it as economic as possible. We are not trying to make money.”

Clark said University housing does not get legislative subsidies, so the University pays for everything.

The University provides some amenities students do not see. All residence halls except Pioneer Hall are equipped with fire sprinklers. The University is the first Big Ten school to do this, Clark said.

In 1998 the University began offering ethernet in residence halls. This was a big deal at the time, Stubblefield said. Today, most apartment complexes near campus offer high-speed Internet service.

When similar amenities are offered, price and convenience become factors students take into consideration.

“It’s new and nice and doesn’t stink like the dorms,” sophomore Sarah Spiczka said, referring to her Riverbend Commons apartment. “Also, it’s on campus so it’s more convenient than other apartments.”

Several apartment complexes were built near campus in the past five years. This is a result of the vacancy rate in the Twin Cities several years ago, Stubblefield said.

“When there is a tight housing market, the response is to build new facilities,” she said. “With the new apartments, students have more options.”

The University would like to see more students living on campus, University officials said.

“It is good experience. It’s important that students live on campus because they are more involved in the University community and they have higher GPAs than their counterparts,” Clark said.

Riverbend Commons and improvements in other residence halls have been a good selling point for admissions workers, too.

“At every level whether it’s housing, scholarships or advising, the University realizes that students have many options. We need to be aware of the competition,” admissions director Wayne Sigler said. “(Housing and Residential Life has) been very proactive in dealing with competition.”

Students living in the older, traditional residence halls said they chose them for a variety of reasons.

“I opted to live in the dorms to meet more people and get the whole experience,” first-year student Lauren Eggert said. “You can live in an apartment but you won’t have as much fun or meet as many people.”