More incoming University freshmen will call study lounges home next fall as early predictions from housing administrators once again show an overflow of student interest in and a shortage of adequate on-campus housing.
While expected numbers range from a shortage of 500 to 1,000 spaces, officials say statistics are not definite. Yet preparations are being made to deal with the housing crunch, a steadily increasing problem for Housing and Residential Life over the past few years.
And while administrators say ending the housing problem is a top priority, few can offer immediate solutions.
“We have to step this up and be more aggressive. I don’t think we should be putting people in hotels or study lounges,” said Regent Jessica Phillips. “It’s not what we want for the students.”
Last year, 199 students lived in temporary housing until room space opened up. Though the number for this fall continues to fluctuate, officials expect it to increase once again.
“At any given time, it is almost impossible to zero in on one concrete number due to such things as cancellations,” said housing director Mary Ann Ryan. “But there will once again be a housing shortage.”
Ryan said housing officials and other administrators are meeting to brainstorm solutions.
One way is to look at what officials call “expanded housing,” which includes tripling up in double rooms and turning study rooms into living quarters. This is what administrators did in the past.
Housing officials extended the deadline for room cancellations from May 1 to June 12. They also provided information on the University’s off-campus housing service.
In 1995, a handful of students started their University experience living in the Days Inn hotel. Officials said this could be an option for this coming fall.
“It might not be the best alternative, but we might have to do it to ensure the students have a place,” said Regents Vice Chairwoman Patricia Spence.
One reason for the increase in student housing demand is a growing freshman class size. Statistics from the Office of Admissions show the number of incoming freshmen is expected to rise by about 300 from 4,526 last year. Further, the University has seen a rising trend in enrollment continue over the past decade.
Ryan said the overall interest in student housing has also increased, including interest from upperclassmen.
“I think the on-campus environment is really attractive to incoming students, especially socially,” Ryan said. “There has just been a bigger demand.”
Others said the interest should be seen as a testament to the quality of housing services.
“The good news is that students want to be here, involved with the University,” said Patricia Jones Whyte, assistant director in freshman admissions.
Another reason for the housing deficiency is a University guarantee to incoming freshmen. If a student meets all necessary deadlines and makes his or her deposit on time, the University promises a place to live on campus.
The updated guarantee policy came about in 1995, the same year the housing situation arose.
Now some officials say this guarantee must be reevaluated, while others say it must stay.
“I think it’s very important that we keep this guarantee because it is important for students to immediately be immersed in this campus, for educational and social reasons,” Phillips said.
But Ryan said other officials are looking hard at the guarantee policy to make sure they can continue to provide housing.
Regents also expressed concern about the housing dilemma for upperclassmen.
“The upperclassmen are literally forced out by the number of incoming freshmen. And that’s not what we want,” Spence said.
Spence added that this housing situation has been a top administrative priority for some time, but solutions have been hard to come by.
Officials originally had a proposed site for a new dormitory in Dinkytown. However, pressure from local businesses over parking concerns caused the cancellation of any plans.
Administrators are also discussing housing possibilities with private developers, though no plans have yet been made, as well as looking at ways to renovate existing facilities, Ryan said.
Phillips said despite administrative concern, officials realize the solution needs time.
“It’s hard to identify places to immediately move students,” she said. “Unfortunately, we have to wait until the South Mall hall is complete.”
The proposed South Mall residence hall, which will overlook the Mississippi River behind Coffman Union, is expected to house about 300 students. Its completion is expected for fall 2000.
Ryan said she predicts this will alleviate most of the housing shortage.
“By the fall of 2000, there should be an adequate supply of housing,” Ryan said.
But Spence said that still leaves the problem for the next two years.
She said the only solution is to get a new residence hall up and running as quickly as possible. “We have to come up with something soon to end this housing crunch.”