U focuses on housing for sophomores

The school currently offers about 7,000 beds across a dozen housing facilities.

Brian Edwards

While the University of Minnesota wants more students to live in University housing beyond their first year, housing shortages have squeezed the school’s ability to do so.
Amid the school’s ongoing discussions about enrollment strategy, a focus on keeping students in campus housing has surfaced after recent studies showed University students who live in school-affiliated housing for multiple years are more likely to graduate in four years and maintain higher grades.
But limited housing for second-year and transfer students has made it difficult to accommodate students beyond their initial year on campus.
“The goal is to have as many sophomores live on campus as possible,” said Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Bob McMaster. “The expectation is that it would be very difficult to have a high percentage of sophomores live on campus.”
There are nearly 7,000 beds on campus in 12 different facilities, but that still doesn’t leave a lot of available space, McMaster said.
The University ranks at the bottom of the Big Ten, with beds available for just 23 percent of undergraduate students.
Though the number of admissions varies by year, the school aims to have 5,500 available beds for first-year students, who are guaranteed a spot in University housing. This year, more than 5,700 freshman enrolled at the University — one of the largest classes ever. 
Between 1996 and 2013, the University added about 2,000 beds, but those continue to serve mostly freshmen. Nearly 70 percent of students in University housing are first-year students.
About 15 percent of students in University housing are in their second year.
McMaster said the University wants to house a quarter of its sophomores. If the school added more beds, he said, that goal could be raised higher.
McMaster said new studies have shown academic success is tied to University housing. He said the school plans to spread this information to new students at orientation and
to emphasize it to transfer students,  who traditionally struggle to find University housing.
The University guarantees 200 beds for transfer students in the fall, but hundreds of transfer students are routinely wait-listed for University housing.
Regent Thomas Devine said the Board of Regents discussed the fact that the University only has the capacity to house mostly freshmen at its October  meeting.
As regents continue housing talks, he said, the conversation has shifted beyond the addition of beds.
A boom in more attractive private housing situated on the edge of campus has made it more difficult to retain students past their first years, Devine said.
As students age, they are more apt to choose non-University housing. 
The board authorized money for Sanford Hall renovations in June, but Devine said that approval spurred regents’ discussion on whether to renovate or to build new facilities.
He said Sanford’s proximity to both the East and West Bank make it an ideal location for a new residence hall.
Chair Dean Johnson said the board wants to address housing questions to lower costs and to retain students in University housing at the same time.
“We will work on the grand plan so we don’t overbuild but continue to meet the needs and wants of students,” he said.